As much as he tried, Peter Mui (pictured above, left) could never make sense of the death of his childhood friend Jon Grebin, 16, to leukemia in 1984. That is, until three decades later, when his donation of stem cells would save the life of an anonymous 48-year-old man battling leukemia on the other side of the world.
It was his faith, Mui says, that not only helped him overcome the loss of his childhood friend, but also convinced him to join Be the Match®, the largest registry of potential marrow donors.
“Not all situations get resolved in a positive way,” Mui reflects. “I didn’t know why Jon was taken away. But in retrospect, it motivated me to do what I had to do.”
As a pharmacy manager, with a background in oncology, Mui says the memory of his childhood pal is what prompted him to provide a cheek swab sample at a 2001 blood drive and bone marrow registry event. The event specifically targeted members of the Asian community because that ethnic group is underrepresented in the bone marrow registry.
“There are very few minorities currently in the bone marrow registry,” Mui explains. “So there’s a greater need to screen potential donors in the Asian, African American and Hispanic communities.”
Twelve years after Mui joined the bone marrow registry, he received an important call—someone needed a transplant and he was a potential match.
Father Luke Fong (pictured above, right), an assistant priest at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Singapore, had become ill while studying for a licentiate degree in systematic theology in Washington, D.C. Fr. Luke blogged about his experiences with leukemia and wrote about two previously failed attempts to locate a suitable donor.
For Mui, his understanding of the pharmaceuticals involved to prepare for the stem cell donation dissipated his fear of the process. His first step was a physical exam, followed by a series of medical tests. Then Mui was asked for a donation of peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC), one of two ways to donate stem cells for a bone marrow transplant. His PBSC donation was collected through a nonsurgical procedure call apheresis. It extracts and filters stem cells from an entry point in one arm, while immediately returning the rest of the blood components to the other arm.
“You give yourself injections for five days, which prompts your body to produce more stem cells than normal,” he says. “On the fifth day, you sit at the (apheresis) machine that extracts them.”
He says the amount of pain he experienced was “minimal” in comparison to the constant fear, worry and anxiety of someone who is battling leukemia.
“If it were me or my loved ones [in Fr. Luke’s position], I’d hope that someone would want to save my life or theirs,” Mui relates. “I figured if not me, then who?”
Even more rewarding than the donation, Mui says, was learning that Fr. Luke was cancer-free and wanted to thank him in person. Four years after his donation, Mui met Fr. Luke face-to-face. It was an emotional experience that neither will soon forget.
Read more stories from our blood donors and recipients.