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Cammy Lee Leukemia Foundation, Inc.
Home arrow Our Bravest arrow The Donors arrow Virginia Lau

Board of Directors:

James Chang
Kevin Ching M.D.
Sharon Lau
Stella Lee Leong

Virginia Lau

Virginia Lau

Receiptant: Cammy Lee
Date Registered: Spring of 1990
Date Donated: Nov. 13, 1992

Notes: Cammy and her donor, Virginia met in 1994.  

U.S. patient finds Canadian donor through NMDP

I owe her everything. When I met her, I just broke down," Cammy said, remembering how she felt when she came face to face with Virginia, the woman who donated her marrow to save Cammy's life.

Cammy received Virginia's marrow in an unrelated marrow donor transplant in 1992. Cammy, a Chinese-American from New York, was unable to find a matched donor in the United States and turned to international registries. With help of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), Cammy's doctors found Virginia. Virginia, a Chinese-Canadian from Toronto, had joined the Canadian Red Cross Society as a volunteer marrow donor. The two met at the Canadian Red Cross Toronto Blood Centre on July 4, 1994

Cammy was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when she was 13 years old. She underwent almost five years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Finally, it appeared that her cancer was cured. Despite her illness, Cammy graduated from high school on time. She began courses in a community college, applied to and was accepted at Rutgers University. But during her sophomore year at Rutgers, blood tests showed that her leukemia had returned.

"I ended up leaving school just before final exams," Cammy remembered. "My doctor said I needed a bone marrow transplant. He wasn't sure that my body could take any more chemotherapy."

Cammy has five siblings and all were tested in hopes of being her matched donor. None were. Every known relative who would qualify as a potential donor was tested. Still no one matched. The family turned to NMDP Registry of volunteer donors.

Doctors told Cammy's family that her chances of find a donor were poor because of her Chinese heritage. Very few Asian / Pacific Islander (A/PI) volunteer donors were registered with the NMDP. In hopes of improving Cammy's chances, and those of all A/PI patients searching for donors, two of Cammy's sisters and her brothers-in-law established the Cammy Lee Leukemia Foundation. The foundation focused its recruitment efforts on New York's A/PI community. In the fall of 1992, Cammy's doctor called with news that a matched donor might have been found. Cammy waited and hoped the stranger would decide to save her life.

Almost two years before, in the spring of 1990, Virginia was one of 10,000 Chinese-Canadians who attended a recruitment drive sponsored on behalf of a six-year-old Toronto girl with aplastic anemia. Unfortunately, no match was found for the child and she died several months later.

Virginia had responded to the call for marrow donors because strangers once had saved her daughter's life. When her daughter was born, she required a blood transfusion. Her daughter lived and is healthy today because of the generosity of volunteer blood donors.

So when Virginia was contacted by Toronto Blood Centre as a potential match for Cammy, she thought of it as a unique opportunity to give something back to her community.

"When I was told I was a match for someone, I knew I had the chance to save someone's life," she said.

When Cammy's doctor told her that the stranger agreed to donate, Cammy was overwhelmed and felt a surge of hope. She was admitted to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for the transplant. Cammy received Virginia's marrow on Nov. 13, 1992.

One week after the procedure, Virginia was back to her normal routine. Cammy's journey was just beginning.

During her recovery, she suffered from the depression and graft versus host disease, a condition in which the new marrow attacks the recipient's body. Then, months after the transplant, a biopsy indicated Cammy had contracted lymphoma.

The only chance to beat the disease seemed to be second transplant. As Cammy grew sicker, her doctors approached Toronto Blood Centre to ask if Virginia would be willing to donate again. Virginia agreed.

"If there is a chance I can save a life, I would not hesitate to help," Virginia said later.

Within a week of her second transplant, Cammy's condition began to improve. She saved my life twice. I really wanted to meet her, " Cammy said.

Cammy and Virginia were told they had to wait one year after the transplant before contacting each other, because of program standards governing patient and donor confidentiality.

Cammy waited dutifully and one year after her transplant, she wrote her donor a letter. Virginia replied that she was also anxious to meet.

The Canadian Red Cross Society and Toronto Blood Centre arranged for them to meet in Toronto on Canada Day, also American Independence Day.

The meeting was an exciting and emotional one for both the women and their families. Since that day, the two have continued to write and telephone each other.

In December 1994, Virginia and her family moved to Beijing. Despite the distance, she and Cammy plan to keep in touch and hope to see each other again some day.

The Cammy Lee Leukemia Foundation still operates and is now an official recruitment group of the NMDP. The foundation thus far has helped add 1,846 donors to the NMDP Registry.

Cammy has returned to college and speaks frequently on behalf of the NMDP, helping to recruit more donors to the Registry.

- NMDP Marrow Messenger
Volume IV, 1995
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