January 2013 was especially painful for Mai and her family. She has a 3-year-old daughter and was expecting another baby for the second time. For a good whole month, Mai could not seem to get over a cough that had been bugging her daily, but none of her family, including herself, did not think much of it. Instead of seeing a doctor, she did what anyone of us would do and bought medication for the irritating cough. Until a routine blood test which followed with any pregnancy proved that something was indeed not right.
When her husband got home from work, Mai broke down and started crying. Her husband was concerned and wondered what had happened. It was then that Mai broke the news that they could be losing their baby.
Mai was told by her doctors that she has leukemia, a horrible blood cancer that was a threat to her baby's life as well as her own. She never thought that she would have cancer at the tender age of 32, since she had no issues with her health at all.
They made the painful decision to end the pregnancy and begin with her chemotherapy immediately. She found herself in remission and after ten months, unfortunately, her cancer returned with a vengeance. Mai decided to continue to live her life and to take her mind off her painful situation, she decided to work again.
"Instead of vacation and enjoying summer with our daughter, she ended up going through more and more and more chemo.” said her husband.
It was going to take BMT, Bone Marrow Transplant, to try and save Mai's life because chemotherapy simply wasn't working.
“Although Mai has an older brother, when he was tested for compatibility it was found out that he isn’t compatible.” said her husband.
A sibling has only 25-30 percent chance of being compatible and once again, Mai was left stranded without any other options except to try and find a donor that isn't related to the family. The wonders of the world have presented Mai with the ability to find a donor through a database that allows doctors to search for compatible donors. Once located anywhere in the world, a nurse or doctor will be responsible in bringing the bone marrow back.
Without needing any ice for the bone marrow, since the donor's stem cells regenerates within days, the nurse place the bone marrow in a basket and travels overnight back to the receiver.
The international network has over 24 million people and sadly, Mai was unable to find a match.
“Again, we were devastated. Doctors told us that we have two months to find a donor. And we tried.”
The doctor then informed them that another option was to receive a transplant to find a compatible umbilical cord, however, it might be risky. Using the same registries, women are able to donate their umbilical cord. The cords are frozen and will be accessible through the network.
Mai eventually found a compatible donor for the umbilical cord and the stem cells from it were injected into her blood. The doctors call it Day Zero and this procedure have given them all another chance. Mai is thankful that she is of Asian descent because non-Caucasian will likely be unable to find a donor. Many ethnicities to date are still trying to find donors. It is reported that if you are mixed ethnicity, you might find it harder to find a donor.
People who are 18 to 35 years of age can sign up to be a donor and by doing so, will help to save lives by donating their stem cells. BeTheMatch.org can be found in the United States.