On the April anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, I wrote an article asking for help. My mother has lymphoma, an aggressive and unpredictable kind of blood cancer, and was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. In order to perform the transplant, the doctors needed a blood donor who was a genetic match, but there were no existing matches in the world. And so my family, friends and I went on a crusade to find my mother a matching donor.
Since then, we have tested thousands of people for the bone marrow registry, and raised almost $200,000 to process the swabs we collected. Not one of those people was a match for my mom. But our work was not in vain. A few weeks ago, I found out that Charlotte Conybear, a 4-year-old Armenian girl from Philadelphia with aplastic anemia, finally found a matching donor after searching for almost two years.
I received a newsletter last week from my alma matter, Amherst College, saying that my fellow alum, Amit Gupta, was recently diagnosed with acute leukemia and is in dire need of a bone marrow transplant. He is a 32-year-old entrepreneur who founded Photojojo and Jelly, two businesses that have touched more than 1 million people in 100 cities around the world.
The best chance of finding a match for an Indian, like Gupta, is another Indian. The most probable genetic match for anyone is a person of the same race or ethnicity because they share similar tissue traits. Unfortunately, South Asians are severely underrepresented in the worldwide bone marrow pool, making Gupta’s odds of finding a match slim.
But signing up is simple. All you have to do is fill out a form on www.marrow.org and a kit to take a painless DNA sample from your saliva is mailed to your door. If you’re a match, all you have to go through is a process similar to donating blood.
Gupta and his friends have already organized more than 100 drives in the United States and India, and signed up several thousand people.
“I have an amazing team of friends who’ve come together to help me,” Gupta told me. “I’ve had periods where I was too sick to be on the computer, or had eye damage and could barely see for a week. There’s no way I could have done this without them. They’ve been planning drives, coordinating with the National Marrow Donor Program, doing daily outreach to hundreds of temples and Indian student groups on campuses, and raising money.”
Gupta’s campaign has gotten a huge response from the media and celebrities. Gupta was particularly excited to tell me that Alyssa Milano had tweeted in support of his cause. But she wasn’t the only one. So did Anderson Cooper, David Copperfield, Salman Rushdie, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Stephen Fry, the cast of “90210,” Craig of Craigslist, and actor Aziz Ansari. Companies such as Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Stumbleupon, Adobe, Skillshare, Amazon.com and AT&T have organized drives for Gupta at their offices.
“I know it sounds corny, but I think it’s awesome that so many people have jumped in and made the search for South Asian donors their issue, decided to invest their time and energy into getting people in the bank, and really making a dent on the chances of South Asians for a decade to come,” he said.
Gupta has undergone two cycles of chemotherapy, and his doctors say he needs to find a match in the next eight days. If he does not, he will have to undergo additional rounds of chemotherapy and his chances of survival will be significantly reduced.
So what can I say to compel you to sign up for the registry? There are few times in your life when you can truly help someone. That time is now.