LONG BEACH — Jenny Hirata, who was just nine when she was diagnosed with leukemia, listened as her fellow taiko drummers in Kishin Daiko performed at the A3M Starlight Gala in Long Beach on Oct. 15.
Her presence, and that of other bone marrow donor recipients, was an emotional testament to the impact of Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M), started in 1991 when only a few Asian Americans were on the national registry.
A3M conducts over 500 marrow donor recruitment drives each year in the African American, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, Korean, Pilipino, South Asian, Vietnamese and multi-racial communities. A3M focus on recruitment in ethnic communities because the odds of finding a marrow match is much more likely within one’s own racial or ethnic group.
A bone marrow drive eventually led to Cynthia Yamaguchi, who became a life-saving match for Hirata. Today, Hirata is a certified natural health professional, and teaches elderly residents of Sakura Gardens.
Donors and recipients shared the stage at the event emceed by Julia Cho and Tamlyn Tomita. Bill Watanabe, former executive director of Little Tokyo Service Center, shared the organization’s history. Sharon Sugiyama and her sister Kathy Ninomiya reached out to LTSC for help when they were seeking a bone marrow donor recipient for their 36-year-old nephew Nick Suzuki. Sadly, Nick passed away, but his legacy became the founding spirit behind A3M.
Twenty-five years later, Kaili Nguyen, 9, attending with her family, spoke about receiving a bone marrow transplant. Now an active fifth-grader, Kaili was 3 1/2 when she was diagnosed with mylodysplastic syndrome. She has received two transplants and her doctors say she is on the road to recovery.
Zoe Lopez, 5, met her donor, Noemi Aslup, for the first time at the gala. The Lopez family traveled from Florida for the emotional meeting. Zoe was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and received a bone marrow donation in February 2015.
“After the transplant, Zoe faced many challenges and continues to have ups and downs event to this day,” said Mayerlin Lopez. “However we will forever be thankful to A3M and more than anything to our donor, who donated a part of herself to save the life of our daughter, the greatest selfless act.”
Photos by MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo