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Asian Marrow Donors Targeted : Health: A Buddhist group is directing the effort to help a Taiwanese graduate student in Iowa who needs a transplant because of leukemia.


SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — A Taiwanese graduate student in Iowa has turned to the San Gabriel Valley's Asian community for help in finding a bone marrow donor.

Wen-Ling Wen, a 29-year-old University of Iowa student, has leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant.

The problem is, she is most likely to find a compatible donor in the Asian community, and the pool of marrow donors in the United States includes few Asians, although a nationwide appeal for help has been issued.

But a Monrovia-based Buddhist group that heard about her plight has taken on Wen's cause, encouraging Asians in the San Gabriel Valley to take blood tests and help cover her medical costs.

The Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu-Chi Foundation has conducted two blood test drives in the San Gabriel Valley and has scheduled a fund-raiser Saturday in El Monte to raise the $150,000 to $250,000 cost of a marrow transplant. Wen, whose family and husband were tested but could not provide the marrow, is too ill to attend.

The foundation has 2.8 million members worldwide and 115,000 in the United States, said Margaret Sheen, spokeswoman and program coordinator of the foundation's Monrovia chapter, which has organized testing of 335 potential donors.

The nonprofit foundation aims to help anyone in need regardless of race or religion, she said. Started in Taiwan by a Buddhist nun, the foundation plans to open a free clinic in Alhambra in May.

The foundation heard about Wen through the National Marrow Donor Program, established by Congress in 1987 to coordinate a nationwide network of donor centers. Of the 800,000 donors in the program's pool, only 30,000 are Asian or Pacific Islanders.

"Just like our features, tissue types are inherited and can be traced to geographic origins," said Sharon Sugiyama of Miracles for Asian Matches, which is affiliated with the national marrow program. "A tissue type is inherited just as the color of our hair and eyes are."

In addition to the blood test drive, the foundation is trying to educate the community about the bone marrow donation program. Dr. U. Soe Myint, an Alhambra oncologist and volunteer consultant for the foundation, said people are unnecessarily afraid of donating blood for testing.

"A lot of people think marrow is chipped off the bone," Myint said. "It scares people away, but it's not that way."

First, he said, donors give a small amount of blood to go into the database for testing; if there's a match, a second blood test is done. If the match is positive, the marrow is drawn from the hip of the donor under general anesthetic and then administered to the patient.

"It's simple," Myint said. "Whether transplant is in English or Chinese or in any language, a transplant sounds like we're chopping off the bone. We're not."

That's why getting as many people to show up for testing is important, he said. "The databank needs to be larger, not just for Asians, but for everyone."

The fund-raiser for Wen will be at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Chinese Culture Service Center, 9443 Telstar Ave., El Monte. Tickets are $10 and $50.

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