Fil-Am mom of 3 seeks bone marrow donor following leukemia diagnosis

Melissa Futagaki (right) shares a family photo with her husband, and their three young daughters. Futagaki, 37, is in search of a bone marrow donor of Filipino descent. | Contributed photo

A Filipina American mother of three young daughters is seeking a bone marrow donor after being recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.

Melissa Futagaki, 37, was diagnosed at the beginning of October after a history of grappling with allergy issues and anemia.

After getting lab work done in September, her platelets were out of the normal range, and she began to notice symptoms like her heart racing or a sudden headache when going up the stairs.

She was sent to the emergency room to rule out bleeding in the brain, but then the doctor found consistencies with leukemia, Futagaki recounted.

“That was when I found out and was officially diagnosed a couple of days later while I was in the hospital,” she told the  Asian Journal  in a recent interview. “My diagnosis came as a surprise — this was not something I expected to experience at this age so this can happen any at any time and can affect anyone or any of your family members.”

Acute myeloid leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, preventing the marrow from making normal red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

A bone marrow transplant is a top way to treat the disease, especially for older patients. Two of Futagaki’s half-siblings have been tested and were not matches for a transplant, so now doctors are turning to a national donor list.

“We learned how the donor list really lacks Asian representation, And me being Filipino, it’s only 0.5% of Filipinos on the list. Going through this and the lack of representation makes it difficult for us to find a match,” Futagaki, who has completed her first round of chemotherapy, said.

Matching is based on one’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type and matches are closely based on a patient’s ethnicity.

Futagaki (center) poses with her daughters, ages 8, 6 and 4. “Finding a match will allow my daughters to have a mother,” she said. | Contributed photo

Organizations like the Asian American Donor Program (AADP) and Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) encourage the broader Asian American community to join the Be the Match registry through recruitment events and raising awareness.

Filipinos have a 46% chance of finding a donor, the AADP previously told the Asian Journal.

Though the pandemic has hampered in-person recruitment, individuals can join the registry and receive a home swab kit. Requirements include being between 18-44 years old and meeting general health standards. Individuals can also text swab4melissa to 61474.

They will have to swab the inside of their cheek and mail the kit back, and will be contacted if they are a match for Futagaki or other Filipino/Asian Americans in need of a donor.

The Bay Area stay-at-home mother hopes that more Filipino Americans join the registry and that a match is found so she can see her daughters — ages 8, 6, and 4 — grow up.

“Finding a match will allow my daughters to have a mother. They are all I think about while going through this process and I just want the opportunity to be a part of their future,” Futagaki said. “There’s nothing I want more than to have many more years and memories with my family. That one person out there could give me that chance, which is why I’m asking for everyone to register and potentially save a life.”

Christina M. Oriel

Christina M. Oriel is an award-winning editor and communications strategist based in Los Angeles with experience in content, strategy and branding for media ecosystems, inclusive fintech startups, small businesses and direct-to-consumer products.

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