Could you be “the one”?

Originally posted on: 2011/11/11

Long before Mixed in Canada was even an idea, I would spend countless hours combing the internet like Neo of the Matrix, not really sure what I was looking for. Looking back, I realize that it was in fact Mixed in Canada that I was longing for, but I didn’t know it then. This went on for quite some time until late one night as I sat bleary eyed, staring at my computer screen, when I found the catalyst: Karla Neckles.

Photo borrowed from BBC

Here was a mother of two with a similar mixed background to me and she was dying of leukemia. An international plea had been cast to find a match but time was running out. I glanced at the date of the article and realized that it was over a year old, so I searched for an update, but I realized that it was too late as headings like “Cancer mum Karla loses fight for life” sprawled across the page. Not long after, Mixed in Canada was born, with a section devoted to health.

Fast forward to this past summer at Hapa-Palooza in Vancouver, British Columbia. I’ve flown in from Toronto, so I am standing sheepishly by the venue doors and nervously introduce myself to the others, including a (digitally) familiar face that turns out to be Athena Asklipiadis. She is here, along with filmmaker Jeff Chiba Stearns, for many reasons which include signing up marrow donors with One Match while filming “Mixed Match”. Read on below to meet Athena and learn about her life-saving mission:

1. What is your mix and how do you like to identify these days?
I am Japanese, Greek, Italian, Armenian and Egyptian.

Photo courtesy of Athena Asklipiadis (front right)

2. What inspired you to create Mixed Marrow?
Losing my aunt to Lymphoma in 2007 made me realize the devastation of cancer, I knew I wanted to do something in memory of her, but didn’t know what. In 2008, at a Japanese cultural festival, I was asked to join the bone marrow registry by mixed race patient, Krissy Kobata’s family. While signing up, I learned of the role ethnicity played in marrow matches and that Krissy, and other patients like her, had difficult odds due to their mixed race heritage.

3. There is a slide show on your website featuring some lovely mixed folks – how are they connected to Mixed Marrow? The faces on our site are of survivors, currently searching patients and those who did not survive. We have worked to share their stores as well as recruit donors in their honor.

4. How did you get involved with One Match in Canada? I reached out to OneMatch Canada after learning of Hapapalooza through the festival creators. I knew we had to do a drive in Canada and in order to do so, we had to use testing procedures and kits that were to Canada’s national standards. OneMatch is the national registry in Canada so I connected with their recruiters to make the drive possible at the event.

5. What is the need like in Canada? Is there anything unique/interesting about the need in Canada? Much like the US, the demographic of multiracial people is the fastest growing and interracial unions are becoming more and more common. Currently the registry lacks mixed race donors so to address the issue we must add more to the registry, especially since our numbers are so rapidly growing. Another highly underrepresented population in Canada’s registry is the aboriginal/First Nations demographic who also face difficult odds finding matches.

6. You are currently working on a film about the need for donors in the mixed community with Jeff Chiba Stearns of “One Big Hapa Family”. What has this experience been like for you? When can we look forward to seeing it?

Filming of “Mixed Match”. Photo courtesy of Mixed Marrow

The experience so far of working on this film has been an interesting one. I definitely did not realize how difficult it would be to make such a film until we started shooting patients and their families. Hearing many of their emotional journeys has been hard, but also very inspiring since they are all such fighters and really have become such strong advocates of the registry to help save more lives. I would have to say that working with Jeff is definitely an honor. He and camera operator, Greg Masuda, are such talented people to work with and I feel fortunate that our cause will be displayed so beautifully on screen. “Mixed Match” is set to release in 2013.

7. How has your experience with Mixed Marrow affected your perception/feelings of being mixed? I don’t feel my perceptions have changed really about being mixed. I think this cause allows our community to bond together on an issue that matters. I just want people to understand that the issue is not that we are harder to match, but rather our options of donors are limited since most potential mixed donors are under the legal age to donate publicly. Since we are the newest demographic, of course our numbers are low, but so are other ethnic minorities.

8. This is such a heartbreaking issue that it is easy to get discouraged. Do you have a success story that we can share?

Survivor, Valerie. Photo courtesy of Mixed Match

Valerie’s story: I was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 1993 at the age of 11 and was given a life expectancy of five years. My doctors told me that I had a one in a million chance of finding a match, due to my Chinese and Caucasian mixed ethnic background. Seven years had passed with no match, and I had more or less given up hope of a cure. However, in the summer of 1999 after my freshman year of college, a bone marrow match was finally found! Now eleven years post-transplant, I am enjoying a successful career, graduate school, great friends, family, life and everything that comes with it! (Read more about Valerie here).

9. Is there something you’d like to say to your Canadian mixed counterparts? After visiting Vancouver and Canada in general for the first time, I was surprised by the super warm welcome I received. I found the people to be extremely pleasant and the city was such a beautiful place to visit. I hope to get to know other parts of Canada in the future and work to help bring drives to many more cities.

Thank you Athena for the work you do, the world is a better place because of you! See Athena’s appearance on CNN with Soledad O’Brien here!

How you can help:

 

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