Not long after I arrived in Armenia last year to work as a volunteer, I found out that my mother was in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. She had lymphoma, an aggressive and unpredictable type of blood cancer. In order to perform the transplant, the doctors needed a blood donor who was a genetic match. But then, as now, there were no existing matches in the world. And so my family, friends and I went on a crusade to find my mother a matching donor.
The best chance of finding a match for an Armenian, like my mom, is another Armenian. In fact, the most probable genetic match for anyone is a person of the same race or ethnicity because they share similar tissue traits. This becomes a problem for minorities, who tend to have small registries. If the group of potential donors being searched is small, the likelihood of finding a match is tiny. Some countries, like Albania, for example, don't even have registries. Other registries are larger. Taiwan has over 300,000 people in its registry. The Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry consists of only 20 thousand people, not one of whom is a match for my mom.
As I was already in Armenia, I set out to increase the number of Armenian registrants in the system. Joining a bone marrow registry is simple -- it requires only a saliva sample or a small blood sample from your arm. If you are a match with someone in need of a transplant, chances of which are slim, the doctors don't go near your bone marrow, they merely draw your blood. I have explained to people how simple this process is. While working at bone marrow drives in Armenia, I approached strangers on the street and asked them -- well, begged them -- to get tested for the registry. But even those few people who understood my English flat out ignored my request. There was one thing, though, that I found worked -- sharing my story. As Stalin, of all people, put it, "The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."
Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, almost died waiting for a liver transplant in California in 2009. After his recovery, he worked to improve California's current organ donor system, calling it "an obscure process" that resulted in "no one asking the simple question: Will you donate your organs?"
Today I'm asking you the simple question -- will you donate your stem cells? All it takes is a swab of your cheek, and you could save the lives of people all over the world. There are hundreds of Armenians besides my mother looking for a matching bone marrow donor, not to mention the thousands of people of other ethnicities.
The African philosophy of ubuntu is a theory of interconnectedness based on the phrase "I am, because you are." In the case of people receiving bone marrow transplants from a donor, ubuntu can be understood as "I live, because you do."
Today we recognize the deliberate and systematic destruction of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire from April 24th, 1915, when Armenian leaders and intellectuals were rounded up and murdered, to 1918, during which time able-bodied men of each village were killed, and women and children were sent on death marches into the desert. I can think of no better way to commemorate the loss of life that was perpetrated on the Armenians during the Genocide than to ask not only Armenians, but all people, to give the gift of life to someone in need. I have faith in the fact that my mother will live, because you do, and for that, I thank you.
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