A 51-year-old teacher gives bone marrow and crucial cells to mainland patients
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jun 20, 2010
Two people suffering with cancer on the mainland are alive today because of a Hawaii woman who donated four times for the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
"I donated to two separate people," said Kathy Fu, a 51-year-old Pali Preschool teacher. "That to me is just unbelievable. How can I be a match for two people?"
Fu donated three times to Tyler Warren of Illinois, starting in September 2002 when he had leukemia at age 7.
Now 15, Warren and his family will be flying here for the registry's "Give2Live II -- Hot Fun in the Summertime" fundraiser at 6 p.m. Friday at the Dole Cannery Ballrooms in Iwilei. The Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel is providing them with accommodations.
"I'm going to meet him; I'm so excited," Fu said.
She first donated bone marrow to the boy and it didn't work, said Roy Yonashiro, recruitment specialist at the registry, located at Hawaii Medical Center East.
So in December 2002 she donated white blood cells. That worked, but the leukemia returned, and so did Fu for a third time. She donated stem cells to Warren in June 2003.
HOW TO HELPFor more information about the Bone Marrow Donor Registry and how you can participate, call Roy Yonashiro at 741-1163.
"I always think, what if it was my child?" said Fu. She and her husband Stephen, of Salt Lake, have a son, Evan, 23, and a daughter, Nicole, 21.
She said her husband, who is not on the registry, "thinks I'm a hero."
Fu got another call in 2008: Her bone marrow was a match for a 60-year-old man with lymphoma in Boston.
She said she donated stem cells to the man, a biomedical researcher, who has told her he is in remission and lymphoma free.
Bone marrow matches usually occur between people of the same ethnicity, but Fu is Japanese and her recipients are Caucasian, Yonashiro noted.
The registry greatly needs minority donors and Pacific Islanders, he said. "Maybe 10 patients (in Hawaii) are now searching for donors but thousands more all over the United States and the world are searching."
He said about 16,000 people at any given time have some kind of blood disease such as leukemia. Four out of every 10 are able to get a transplant, he said. "Six out of 10 die waiting for a donor."
Because of Hawaii's mixed ethnicity, he said, "We've got to keep the registry going. We've got to keep the numbers going up."
Fu said she signed up during drives to find a bone marrow donor for Alana Dung, diagnosed with leukemia in 1996 six weeks before her second birthday.
"You forget about it, then all of a sudden one day you get a phone call and they say you're a match. Wow, it's unbelievable. They said I was a good match for Tyler."
And the Boston patient "told me I was a better match than his siblings," she said. "He was just really amazed and wanted to know my family history, when my parents came to Hawaii."
Her grandparents came from Japan but her parents were born here, she explained. Her maiden name was Kathy Toyoshiba.
People who sign up for the registry often do not follow through when called about a match.
But with anesthesia, Fu said "you really don't feel anything" when bone marrow is taken from the lower back. She stayed home about a week but said she probably could have gone back to work.
Giving white blood cells and stem cells "was like giving blood except you're hooked up to a machine, a blood cell separator, and that machine removes stem cells from the blood and returns blood to you," she said.
It takes a couple hours, she said, "but I always think about my recipient and how he must be, so what the donor goes through is nothing compared to what the recipient goes through."
Fu said she doesn't like needles but donates blood every eight weeks "because I know it's a good thing. I get really anxious because they poke, but I just say, 'It's OK.'"
REGISTRY FUNDRAISER TO ROCK WITH '70S MUSICLive music of the 1970s will be featured at the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry's second Give2Live Fundraiser at 6 p.m. Friday at the Dole Ballrooms in Iwilei.
Proceeds from the event will support the registry's mission to help patients anywhere who are waiting for life-saving marrow or blood stem cell transplants.
"Hot Fun in the Summertime" is the theme of the '70s-style event, with music, dancing and "reminiscing on the good old days."
Powerhouse, a rhythm and blues soul band, will perform the music of Tower of Power, Earth Wind and Fire, Chicago, Santana and more. Guest musicians from the Glass Candle, Greenwood, Natural High, Aura and other bands will join Powerhouse on stage.
Individual tickets are $50 each, with $20 tax-deductible. Reserved tables of 10 to 12 are available at $500 and $600, with $200 and $240 tax-deductible respectively. Heavy pupus will be served at each table.
To reserve tickets, e-mail Lisa Wong at give2livemarrow@gmail .com. To make a donation, call fundraiser co-chairpersons Annie Yonashiro at 741-1222 or Wes Fujimoto at 224-9987.