Nina Louie is hoping that she will find a bone marrow match in time to save her life. She has been battling lymphoma since she was diagnosed last September. Doctors tell her she has two months. Hetty Chang reports from Santa Monica for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on June 11, 2013.
A young mother and wife battling a rare form of cancer has just two months to find a bone marrow match, and the search is unusually daunting.
As an Asian-American, Nina Louie has a 73 percent chance of finding someone who is willing and able to save her life, because fewer non-white donors are on the national registry.
Louie, 32, was diagnosed nine months ago with a rare form of lymphoma that has since spread to her brain. She’s already gone through more than a dozen rounds of chemotherapy.
With as little as six weeks to find a match, Louie’s friends and family created a now-viral online campaign to find the right woman or man.
"I never imagined that this would be a possibility," Louie said. "I think my first thought was around my family, and especially my (2-year-old) son. Who would take care of him? Who would pack his lunches? Who would be there to pick him up from school, help him when he cried?"
None of the 10.5 million potential donors in the national registry are a match for Louie, who is of Chinese and Thai descent.
There is a small pool of non-white donors in the national database. White donors comprise about 67 percent of the donor registry, followed by Latino donors at about 10 percent, according to data from the National Marrow Donor Program.
Because bone marrow donation requires a close genetic match, the more similar the ethnic makeup, the easier it is to find a perfect donor.
Louie is one of about 720,000 Asian donors -- about 7 percent of the total -- listed on the national registry. She signed up 15 years ago, when she was a freshman at Stanford.
Now undergoing chemotherapy treatments at UCLA, Louie received an email from the National Bone Marrow Registry last month alerting her that she was a match for someone.
“But when I called them to ask, it was actually that I was a donor match for myself,” Louie told NBC Bay Area.
The push to find Louie’s donor has gone international – with donor drives underway in Thailand, and donor advocates in China trying to find a match in their registries.
"The response has been so overwhelming," Louie said. "It's really made us realize how much kindness there is in this world."
About 2 percent of Americans are registered in the national bone marrow database.
Healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 44 can join the registry for free by taking a cheek swab test. There is a $100 fee for anyone between ages 45 and 60 who wants to join the registry, which helps offset donors’ travel and medical costs.
Of the roughly 10.5 million national registry members, 1 in every 540 will go on to donate marrow.
“Not a lot of people understand that you could save a life just by swab of the cheek,” said Louie. “You could save a life.”
NBC4's Hetty Chang contributed to this report.