By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER
“Thanks to the donor who offered his own bone marrow in good faith, I am still alive. I’d like to express my gratitude from the bottom of my heart. I’m so grateful. Thank you for saving my life.”
Lilly Hatsuse Takarada, who moved to Miami from Nagano prefecture about 35 years ago, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in August 2009. Thanks to a bone marrow transplant performed in March 2010, she got her healthy life back. After a year and a half, she was finally able to convey her appreciation to the lifesaver.
In the summer of 2009, Takarada started experiencing a hacking cough. She was not concerned about it because it had happened before and had cleared up without medical treatment. But since her routine trip to Japan was approaching, she went to see her family doctor to get some cough medicine.
She was told that her blood test showed some irregularities. After a second test, she was referred to a specialist. This further testing confirmed that she was suffering from acute myeloid leukemia.
Takarada couldn’t believe what the doctor was explaining. Her blood test had been normal just six months before. She felt completely healthy. She thought it was just a usual seasonal cough. Her mind went blank with shock, fear, and confusion.
She frantically researched everything she could about the disease, from chemotherapy and side effects to bone marrow transplants and rejection, to try to dispel her fear.
At the hospital, the doctor looked her in the eye and said kindly, “You have a very challenging disease, but we can cure you.” His assurance gave her a sense of hope. She was ready to fight against the aggressive disease.
After the second chemotherapy treatment in October 2009, Takarada’s doctors informed her that her cancer was in remission but it would only be a matter of time until the cancer cells would return. She knew that a transplant would be the only choice she had left.
She focused on what her healthy life would be like after the transplant, instead of worrying about the procedure and rough recovery process. She was determined to keep fighting.
In January 2010, a hospital coordinator told her that the National Marrow Donor Program had found several good candidates even though they were not a perfect match. One of these donors was chosen, and the transplant was performed in March. Although she suffered from viral infections for which she was admitted to a hospital twice, she kept her spirits high.
It has been a year and a half since her transplant. Takarada has finally regained a normal life. “If the donor hadn’t kindly donated his own bone marrow, I might have been dead, to be honest,” she said.
In the U.S., donors and recipients are allowed to contact each other a year after the procedure if both sides agree. As soon as a year passed, Takarada told the coordinator about her wish to contact the donor. She received her donor’s full name and email address for the first time.
The donor’s name is Randy Masada, a resident of Huntington Beach.
Sitting in front of her computer, Takarada noticed that her heart began to race with excitement. “Who is this gentleman?” “Why did he decide to donate his bone marrow?” Many questions rushed into her mind. She sent him an email.
Three days passed, then five days, and even after a week, there was still no response. “He might have changed his mind and may not be interested in contacting me,” Takarada thought. She searched Masada’s full name on the Internet, hoping to learn a little bit more about him.
There it was. A featured article about Masada being a bone marrow donor in The Rafu Shimpo was among the hits the search engine returned. It was a four-part-series titled “Bone Marrow Transplants.”
In an article dated Sept. 16, 2010, Masada had revealed the reason he decided to become a donor: it was his way of sending a positive message to patients who have been battling against deadly disease. “Because everybody deserves a second chance,” he had said.
Takarada called The Rafu Shimpo to make sure the email address she had been given for Masada was correct. The same day, she received an email from him.
Masada wrote in the email, “I’m sorry that I was unable to respond sooner. I got word from The Rafu Shimpo that you tried to contact me. I just checked my spam folder and found your message in there.”
He also told her about his volunteer work for A3M (Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches) to encourage more people to register as donors. “I knew what a wonderful person he was from the article, but his enthusiastic email made me feel even more convinced of that,” said Takarada.
She was finally able to thank Masada from the bottom of her heart for his generous action. She expressed her respect for Masada’s kindness with a Japanese proverb: “I can’t point my feet toward California when I sleep.” She is now hoping that someday she can meet him in person to give him a big hug.