By Laurie Maemura
The Asian American Donor Program (AADP) held a comedy show fundraiser “Laugh for Lives” at the Palace of Fine Arts Theater in San Francisco, CA featuring sponsor booths, refreshments, and celebrities like figure skater Kristie Yamaguchi.
Presented by AADP’s founder Jonathan Leong and Asian American rapper MC Jin, AADP is a 27-year-old community-based nonprofit. It is dedicated to increasing the availability of potential stem cell donors for patients with life threatening diseases curable by a blood stem cell or bone marrow transplant.
The event on Feb. 24 featured stand up comedy from several Asian American comedians namely Amir K, Irene Tu, KT Tatara and Atsuko Okatsuka. They interacted and entertained the audience with jokes on racial oppression, politics, dating, facial appearance and stereotypes.
According to their website every year more than 12,000 patients are diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers, like leukemia and lymphoma or other diseases, for which a marrow or umbilical cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor may be their best or only hope of a cure. A bone marrow transplant involves collecting a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells.
AADP serves multi-ethnic communities since the need for donors is especially important for diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
AADP’s mission stems from a significantly personal story of Amanda Chiang and Judith Jang Berkoltz. In 1989 only 123 Asians were on the National Registry leaving Chiang and Berkoltz unable to find matching donors.
As founder Jonathan Leong discussed the importance of registering as a donor his message was clear, AADP saves lives. He strives to “help structure minority outreach in the country to make it a priority.” Due to Leong’s efforts there are over 294,257 Asians and Pacific Islanders registered in the United States now.
One obstacle is that people of mixed race who are the hardest to match because there are many distinct races. Leong has one of the toughest jobs trying to recruit all the Asian-Americans since “the true obvious differences are between the groups but Asians are the most diverse.”
During a panel discussion, one recipient, a young adolescent with leukemia and one donor took stage with a personal success story. Five years after donor Dinesh Chandrasekhar registered he was notified that he was a potential match. However, Chandrasekhar’s own vitals were not doing well but he was determined to get better.
“Even though they said that they may be able to get another donor, the guilt of not being able to help someone in that stage was brutal,” Chandrasekhar said.
After improving his health, Chandrasekhar was able to donate to the same patient. “I was tearing myself up to try to understand my purpose in life and if I had done anything meaningful in 40 years. Once this happened, I felt inner peace.”
He encouraged the audience to learn more about the process because “you will never know when you will be asked to save someone’s life.” By donating Chandrasekhar said he had become a hero.
With AADP reaching to diverse communities nationwide, the audience learned more about AADP’s mission while being entertained for a great cause.
For more information about bone marrow donors and registering to the National Registry you can visit http://www.aadp.org/learn/how-to-register/.