The adoptive mother of a 16-year-old girl diagnosed with leukemia returned to San Francisco International Airport today from China after searching for a donor who could save her daughter’s life.
Sherrie Cramer, who lives in the eastern part of Sacramento near Carmichael, is the mother of Katie, who was originally diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 2006 and suffered a relapse in April.
Cramer flew out of the Bay Area on July 1 to encourage more people to sign up as bone marrow and adult stem cell donors.
She returned at about 1 p.m. and was headed back to Sacramento to see her daughter when she spoke via telephone about her trip.
“I think it went really well. It was beneficial that I went,” she said.
Cramer started in Beijing, where she initially struggled to get assistance from local officials for her cause.
“They were a little hesitant at first to let me proceed, but I had a good advocate, and she really helped open the door,” she said.
The advocate, Roberta Lipson, is the CEO of a health care technology company in Beijing, and she helped Cramer get in touch with Red Cross officials in Beijing and Guangxi, the region of southern China where Katie is from.
Donor drives were set up for people who were willing to be tested, and the Chinese government agreed to allow five people who were possible matches to have expedited testing done.
Local and national media in China also covered the Cramers’ story and encouraged more people to sign up to the donor database.
Carol Gillespie, executive director of the Asian American Donor Program, an Alameda-based organization, has worked with the Cramers since Katie’s leukemia relapsed.
Gillespie said the chance of finding a perfect donor match is more likely among people of similar ancestry, but perfect matches are rare – only 30 percent among siblings, and far less among non-family members – making it all the more important to increase the number of donors worldwide.
“We really don’t know where Katie’s donor is going to come from,” Cramer said. “It could come locally, it could come from China, it could come anywhere in the world.
“We just want to keep encouraging people of Asian descent, of any minority, to join the registry. It’s really a simple process, especially compared to the treatment the patient has to go through.”
Gillespie said ethnic communities are especially in need of more donors.
“Asians, Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans are all underrepresented in the national (donor) registry,” she said.
Volunteer bone marrow/stem cell donors need to be between 18 and 60 years old and in good health, and they must 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.
Cramer said she was glad she made the trip but was also happy to be headed home to care for Katie, who was not there to greet her mother at the airport because she was hospitalized due to a viral infection in her lungs.
“I do feel like it was really worth the trip, even though it was difficult,” Cramer said. “It was tiring physically and mentally, but being away from my family, being away from a child who’s sick makes it even worse.”
To join the national donor 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 is available at www.katiecramer.org about Katie’s battle with her illness, Sherrie’s trip, and ways to help the Cramers.
Photo of Katie Cramer: Bay City News