The adoptive mother of a 16-year-old girl diagnosed with leukemia left from San Francisco International Airport today on a plane to China to search for a donor who could save her daughter’s life.
Sherrie Cramer, who lives in the eastern part of Sacramento near Carmichael, is hoping to prolong and hopefully save the life of her daughter Katie, who was originally diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2006 and suffered a relapse in April.
A perfect match has not been found for Katie in donor databases from around the world, so Sherrie Cramer is traveling to China for a two-week trip to encourage more people to sign up as bone marrow and adult stem cell donors.
Susan Wong, a family friend who lives near the Cramers, went through the adoption process for a child from China at the same time the Cramers did. Both families chose girls and named them Katie, Wong said.
When the Cramers learned about Katie’s relapse in April, Sherrie Cramer said, “I can’t just sit here and let this happen,” and started formulating a way to find a donor match, according to Wong.
As part of their plan to find a match, the family got in touch with the Asian American Donor Program, an Alameda-based organization.
Carol Gillespie, executive director of the organization, has worked with the Cramers since Katie’s cancer relapsed.
Gillespie said the chances are rare of finding a perfect donor match – only 30 percent among siblings, and far less among non-family members – which makes it all the more important to increase the number of donors worldwide.
A match is more likely among people of similar ancestry, so Sherrie Cramer is going to the Guangxi region of southern China, where Katie’s ancestors, the Zhuang, are from. Katie was born in China and has no known siblings, Gillespie said.
“You’re essentially looking for an unrelated identical twin genetically,” she said.
Wong said the Cramers have also reached out to Linda Wells, who went on a similar trip to China when her adopted daughter Kailee got sick. She eventually found a donor match.
Wells has spoken at length with Sherrie Cramer about her experience to help her with her own trip.
Wong said that the Cramers have also reached out to many media outlets and other organizations in China to get the word out about Katie’s need for a donor.
Family and friends recently held a yard sale that helped cover most of Sherrie Cramer’s trip expenses, Wong said.
Both families are members of Arcade Church in Sacramento, where Katie is a member of the church’s high school ministry.
Katie is “very, very active in her church,” Wong said.
“We have strong faith,” she said. “Our faith is in God, and that the power of prayer is really going to be the answer to anything that Katie and Sherrie need.”
A group of family and friends gathered at San Francisco International Airport today to send Sherrie Cramer off. Katie was at Kaiser Roseville Medical Center to receive treatment for the illness, according to Wong.
She said Sherrie Cramer is very hopeful the trip will lead to a donor match.
Despite not finding a match for Katie, Gillespie said her organization is still encouraging as many people as possible, particularly minorities, to sign up as donors. Dozens of drives are scheduled around the Bay Area in the next few months.
“Ethnic communities are especially in need,” she said. “Asians, Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans are all underrepresented in the national (donor) registry.”
Volunteer bone marrow/stem cell donors need to be between 18 and 60 years old, in good health, and allow a cheek sample to be collected on swabs for human leukocyte antigen testing.
The process “is easy and could potentially save someone’s life anywhere in the world,” Gillespie said.
To join the registry, go to www.aadp.org to find out about upcoming donor drives or request a home kit. For more information, call (800) 593-6667.
More information about Katie’s battle with her illness and ways to help is available at www.katiecramer.org.