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Rutgers graduate student seeks bone marrow donor after leukemia diagnosis

More than 60,000 people were diagnosed with Leukemia last year. Treatment often includes Chemotherapy and can require bone marrow and blood  transplants. Bone marrow donors require complete genetic compability with recipients for transplant to work. – Photo by Hailey Ebenstein

Siqi Li, an international student from China who is pursuing a master’s degree in human resources at Rutgers, was diagnosed with Leukemia on Oct. 10 and began phase two of her chemotherapy treatment near the end of November.

At first she turned to online forums to find donors, but then she found out about DKMS — a database that stores cheek swabs of possible donors and stores them anonymously for the global patient search.

“I found that DKMS makes their registration process free and very simple. If people register through DKMS, they increase the chances of people finding their donor,” the School of Management and Labor Relations student said in an email.

In order to find a match, the patient needs to find your “genetic twin.” Since the Asian community represents only 7 percent of the National Donor Registry list, Li said it is difficult for her to find a donor.

“DKMS has been very helpful through this process and has worked with me to raise awareness on my story in hopes that I find my match,” she said.

Jordan Segal, the donor recruitment coordinator for DKMS, said the organization’s mission is to end blood cancer.

He sets up events for DKMS and has held blood drives for patients like Li. Drives with specific victim’s faces attached to them are significantly more successful, Segal said.

“We actively advocate for and register people for the National Donor Registry,” he said. “We make the process as easy as possible.”

People who want to register can go to the DKMS website and fill out an online survey or call them to find the closest drive. If a person qualifies for the registry, a donor kit is sent to their house to be completed and sent back, Segal said. 

“A huge portion of the registry is caucasian and a small portion is minorities,” he said. “Less than 10 percent of people ever get matched with a patient.”

It is important for people of various ethnic backgrounds to register because when looking at a genetic print it is much more likely to match with a person of the same ethnicity, Segal said.

“One of the misconceptions about it is that it really hurts,” Segal said. “It is very easy. If you have ever given blood, it is just like giving blood except for a longer amount of time.”

There is some mild discomfort involved with giving blood due to the use of needles, but the level of discomfort a donor goes through is quite insignificant compared to that of a person actually suffering with the disease, he said.

Most of the misconceptions come from the thinking bone marrow donations are used 20 percent of the time, Segal said. 

“While people think it hurts a lot, that is really far from the truth,” he said. 

The donor is put under general anesthesia and the bone marrow is extracted from the back of the pelvic bone, he said.

Segal is a past bone marrow donor himself, and he said the most discomfort he has experienced was a few days of being sore.

“We want everyone who joins the registry to be 100 percent committed to it and almost expect that call,” he said. “One of the worst things that happens is when we match up a donor to a patient and that donor backs out.”

Blood cancers do not discriminate and can appear in anybody, Segal said. 

“By joining the registry you are kind of raising your hand and saying that you are there if anybody ever needs you," he said. 

Stephen Weiss is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in philosophy. He is a correspondent with The Daily Targum. 

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