WAILUKU - There is a "very good chance" that Dr. Bradley Wong will find a match at bone-marrow registry drives Friday and Saturday, the recruiter for the Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry said.
The "Be the Match" events, organized for the Kaiser doctor fighting leukemia, will be held Friday at Kaiser Maui Lani Clinic, 55 Maui Lani Parkway, from 8:30 to 11 a.m.; Maui Memorial Medical Center, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; Kaiser Wailuku Clinic, 80 Mahalani St., 2 to 4 p.m.; and Queen Ka'ahumanu Center, 5 to 9 p.m.; and Saturday at the Maui Swap Meet, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The registration takes only 10 minutes and involves a painless cheek swab, and collection of health and contact information, which will be kept confidential and used only for the registry. To be on the registry, people must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and be willing to donate marrow to anyone in need.
There are currently about 70,000 people on the registry from Hawaii, American Samoa and Guam, said Ferdie Gabat, Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry recruiter, who will be on Maui for the drives. The national registry contains 7 million names, but 5 million of them are Caucasian.
This is a problem for people like Wong, who is of Chinese ancestry, because matches are made at the DNA level and are based largely on race, he said. There is a 15 percent chance of a match for Chinese and Asians. The chances are lower when mixed ethnicity is involved.
"I think it has to do with culture," Gabat said. "I think minorities, Asians, Polynesians, we take pride in family and in our circle of friends, but they don't extend out to the community."
"It's very frustrating for us because as a registry, we can make a big difference," he continued. "Hawaii is made up of minorities, and people aren't relating to what we are doing. They only get involved when . . . family or friends have leukemia."
Another major challenge for the registry is that when a match is made, 50 percent decide against becoming donors.
"It's really heartbreaking to tell the patient we have found a match, but the person said no," he said.
Gabat cites a lack of education and a fear of the bone-marrow-collection procedure for the rejections.
The traditional marrow-collection method is a surgical procedure. Under anesthesia, doctors use special, hollow needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of pelvic bones, the National Marrow Donor Program Web site said.
Following the procedure, donors can expect to feel some soreness in the lower back for a few days. Most donors are back to their normal routine in a few days. The marrow is replaced completely within four to six weeks.
A second, less-invasive procedure called apheresis involves the injection of the drug filgrastim five days before the donation to move more blood-forming cells out of the marrow into the bloodstream. Blood is then removed through a needle in one arm, passed through a machine that separates out the blood-forming cells, and the remaining blood is returned through the other arm. This process is similar to donating plasma.
The process takes about four hours. The side effects include headache or bone or muscle aches for several days before marrow collection due to the filgrastim injections. The effects disappear shortly after collection.
The doctor of the recipient decides which method will be used to collect the marrow, said Gabat. A factor that might eliminate apheresis might be the amount of marrow that needs to be collected. Apheresis might be fine for a child recipient but not a 250-pound adult, he said.
After the donation, the transplant recipient undergoes five days of total body radiation and chemotherapy to wipe out the marrow, Wong explained. The stem cells from the donor's marrow are put into the recipient's system. The hope is that the stem cells will take and proliferate without rejection. The recipient does take immunosuppressant drugs to prevent rejection.
Gabat is very hopeful of finding a match for Wong on Friday.
"There is a very good chance because the majority of the people we register will be minorities," he said.
Volunteers still are being sought to staff the registry stations. For more information, call (877) 443-6667 or Janice Sakuma, Kaiser home health nurse, at 243-6683.
On the Net:
* National Marrow Donor Program: www.marrow.org
* Be the Match drive: BetheMatch.org