Katie Cramer of Sacramento, California is 16 years old and has leukemia. She needs a bone marrow transplant to help her fight the disease. Her best chance of a donor match may be in China. And the Red Cross Society of China is working hard to find someone who can help.
In 1995, Katie was 14 months old and weighed only 14 pounds when Michael and Sherrie Cramer adopted her in China. She grew into an active 12-year-old who enjoyed gymnastics and soccer. Suddenly Katie was always tired. A mysterious bruise appeared on one leg. A visit to the doctor led to a diagnosis of acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
AML is a rapidly progressing cancer more common in adults than children. It affects the blood and bone marrow. Katie was given only a 50 percent chance of surviving, but after five months of chemotherapy, her cancer went into remission. She did well in school, made lots of friends, and played sports. She was crowned second princess in this year's Miss Teen Asia Sacramento pageant.
Then several months ago, after nearly three and a half years of remission, her cancer returned. An AML relapse needs more than chemotherapy treatment. Katie’s doctor, Dr. Kent Jolly, explained that after a relapse, the combination of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant provides the best chance for the patient.
A search of bone marrow donor registries in the U.S. came up with some potential matches for Katie, but none worked out. The teen has no known blood relatives. Her best chance of a bone marrow match will be someone from her Zhuang ethnic group, China's largest minority of 16 million.
Katie’s mother, Sherrie, is working with the country’s Red Cross Society to find a bone marrow match for Katie. The Chinese Marrow Donor Program is a public welfare organization under the leadership of the Red Cross Society of China. In the United States, the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) helps patients receive the bone marrow or cord blood transplant they need.
Song Ye of the Chinese Marrow Donor Program (CMDP) has been working hard to find a donor for Katie. During a visit to the American Red Cross headquarters in Washington, D.C., she explained that several preliminary matches have already been found and three of these have been sent to determine if the donor is a match. If a matching donor is found in China for Katie, the CMDP will interview the donor and obtain their consent, conduct a physical exam, draw the bone marrow, and ship it to the United States for Katie.
Song Ye, or “Sunny,” talked about another young girl from the United States, Kailee Wells, who was also adopted in China and diagnosed with aplastic anemia at age five. No matching donor could be found here in the United States. Kailee’s mother, Linda, took the same trip to China as Sherry Cramer and worked with the CMDP to find a donor.
“At first we couldn’t find a match for Kailee,” Sunny said. “When the story moved, we held many donor drives. Two years later we discovered a doctor was a match.” Young Kailee needed a second bone marrow transplant and today is a healthy young lady who is a good student and loves to read. In 2007, she and her family journeyed to China to meet Dr. Wang Lin, the man who helped save Kailee’s life.
Song Ye has spent the last several months in the United States, learning as much as she can about the American Red Cross Blood Program. She said because Katie is part of a minority in China, it will not be easy to find a perfect bone marrow match for her.
Traditionally, many Chinese were unwilling to donate due to beliefs that discourage the removal of body parts. And some fear pain during the procedure or damage to the donor's health. More recently though, China's donor registry has grown from just 50,000 people in 2003 to more than 1.2 million - still a small fraction of the Chinese population of 1.3 billion, but an impressive upswing over previous years. By the end of June, more than 1,700 Chinese had made donations, including 75 to overseas recipients. But supply still falls far short of demand, with nearly 1 million people needing transplants.
Katie’s story highlights the lengths to which some ethnic minorities must go to find lifesaving bone marrow transplants. Learn more about how to be a bone marrow donor here in the United States by visiting the NMDP web site. More information about the Chinese Marrow Donor Program is available on their web site.