ALAMEDA, Calif. — Donna Rachel Megino, one of the first patients the Asian American Donor Program (AADP) worked with to help find a marrow donor, will be married this Saturday, Aug. 20, at the Oakhurst Country Club in Clayton, Calif.
When she was 9, she had her marrow transplant at Stanford Medical Hospital in December 1990, almost 21 years ago. In August 1992, at age 12, she appeared at a press conference in San Francisco’s Japantown with AADP President Jonathan Leong and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan.
Megino is truly an example of how each of us can “be the one to save a life.” She was born and grew up in Newark, Calif. Her donor, Sanjay Yadav, who is from nearby Fremont, will be in attendance, to watch her start a new chapter in her life. He helped make that happen.
She will marry Leandro de Guzman Dizon, called “Leo” by friends and family. The couple met through a mutual friend in 2006 and, at the beginning, they were strictly friends. Megino comments, “At first, I was really reluctant about our friendship developing into something more. And, since he lives on the East Coast, I was always told long-distance relationships were a disaster.” After six loving years, the couple decided to make it official and tie the knot.
Her family contacted AADP immediately after her diagnosis of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and started setting up drives throughout the Bay Area. Miraculously, Megino, who is Filipino in ancestry, did not have a difficult time finding a match — it took about three months.
Two very unique events occurred. Her donor registered at one of the registration drives held in her honor, and he is Indian. There have been only a few cases in the country in the last 22 years that a patient has found a life-saving donor within his/her own recruitment efforts. It is also extremely rare that a matching donor would be of a different race than the patient.
Megino began working for AADP in April 2009. She wanted to give back to the organization that helped save her life.
“It is an honor to work with Donna, given all of the challenges she has overcome,” says Carol Gillespie, AADP executive director. “Her willingness to lend her story and her support to other patients struggling to find a donor gives them inspiration and hope. She brings a unique perspective to our organization.”
AADP, a 22-year-old community nonprofit organization, serves multiethnic communities. It conducts community education, outreach and donor registration drives in the Asian, Pacific Islander, and multi-racial communities, and, more recently, to the entire ethnic minority community.
“We need everyone of Asian and ethnic minority ancestry to step forward and join the marrow/stem cell registry,” Gillespie says. “There is a shortage of non-Caucasians on the Be The Match registry. This means that patients have to wait longer than is ideal to find a match. AADP staff continues to provide education about the need and how relatively easy it is to register and to donate is needed. If you are found to be a match, the donation procedure is fairly simple, using the collection procedure called peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC).”
AADP, a nonprofit organization in Alameda, continues its effort to reach out to all ethnic communities at fairs, festivals, faith-based organizations, workplaces, colleges and more. AADP is in full gear scheduling drives to increase the numbers of ethnic minorities and multi-racial individuals on the national registry.
Just as we inherit our eye, hair and skin color, we inherit our marrow and stem cell tissue type. Only 30 percent of the time can patients find a match within their own families. “For ethnic minorities and multiracial individuals, finding a marrow/stem cell match is difficult, but not impossible,” says Assemblymember Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), an AADP board member. “In most cases only one person is found to be a match. The important thing is that many, many people step forward. Finding a match is critically urgent.”
When joining the registry, you could potentially match anyone in the world. It is a global effort. Volunteering to be a marrow/stem cell donor is simple. Donors must be in good general health and between the ages of 18 and 60. Cheek samples are collected on swabs for HLA testing. Each participant is asked to give his or her consent to have his or her tissue type listed on the Be The Match registry.
AADP conducts about 360 marrow/stem cell drives yearly, where individuals of all ethnicities are registered. It was the first recruitment group in the country to conduct community-focused marrow/stem cell drives. It is affiliated with Be The Match, National Marrow Donor Program. For more information about AADP and upcoming marrow drives, call (800) 593-6667 or visit www.aadp.org/.
In Southern California, contact Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) at (888) A3M-HOPE or visit www.asianmarrow.org.