Amid styling gels and hair spray cans, a small decorative box sits atop the front counter at the Act 1 Hair Salon in Anaheim with a sign asking for donations.
"Please help for Wendy's husband," begins the note stuck on the container.
Manicurist Wendy Shaw's husband, Daniel, who turned 27 this month, has leukemia, and a bone marrow transplant might prolong his life. But the insurance policy from his employer, the CIGNA insurance corporation, does not cover the expensive search for bone marrow donors unless doctors approve. And so far, doctors have said that Shaw, among other things, is not strong enough to undergo such a transplant.
Dr. Eddie Hu, who has treated Shaw in recent weeks, said he will consider requesting a donor search when Shaw's condition improves.
But other experts contend that a search for a donor should begin as soon as the cancer is detected.
"There are many centers who would say that the day you are diagnosed, you should start looking for a donor, although they may not do the transplant right away," said Robertson Parkman, head of the Division of Research Immunology at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles and a professor of pediatrics at USC Medical Center.
However, Parkman said there may be a problem with launching a donor search for every leukemia patient because the number of requests would overload the system. He said requests for donors should be limited to patients without matching siblings and in cases where chemotherapy is "not likely to be successful."
Shaw, a medical supply clerk with CIGNA, has no siblings for a possible bone marrow match. And the hundreds of nickels and dimes that have filled the container at the hair salon are hardly enough to cover the estimated $10,000 cost of a marrow search.
A CIGNA spokesman said Shaw's employee insurance will pay for the bone marrow search when his doctor authorizes it. Insurance is already paying all of Shaw's hospital expenses, and it will cover the transplant operation, estimated to cost between $150,000 and $200,000, company spokesman Del Bowman said.
In a tiny hospital room at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles, Shaw energetically talked about the final days he and his 26-year-old wife spent together before he was hospitalized nearly eight weeks ago. On one day the couple drove around hillside neighborhoods in north Orange County looking at homes.
"We just spent the day driving around, just dreaming and being together," said Shaw, who appears healthy and fit except for the loss of his hair as the result of radiation treatments.
"I love the sun and just don't get it in here," he said, pointing at the small window in his room. "I'm so ready to get out of here."