“Not a match.”
For Sam Kimura and her sister Alex, these were not the three words they wanted to hear.
In 2010, Sam was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a disease in which the bone marrow does not make enough blood cells for the body. The only cure for aplastic anemia is a bone marrow transplant. Her older sister Alex had always done whatever she could to help protect her younger sister, so this situation was no different. Hoping to be a match for her sister, it was a devastating blow when she found out she wasn’t. Sam then looked to the National Bone Marrow Donor registry, hoping that at least one of the 11 million people on the list would be a match. This was also devastating since not one donor was a match.
Situations like Sam’s are not uncommon. Thousands of people dealing with blood marrow disease and blood cancer are unable to find transplant matches despite the millions of people signed up on the donor registry.
Knowing the feeling of not finding a suitable match led the two sisters to start Sharing America’s Marrow, appropriately abbreviated as SAM. There mission was to find a match for Sam. It was possible that someone in America could possibly be the match they were looking for and they were going to find them.
In 2015, the two sisters, along with their best friend Taylor Shorten, headed on a journey in a tricked-out van through the 50 states of America looking for a match. After realizing how many people weren’t signed up to the registry that could be potential matches to individuals in situations like Sam’s, the two made it their goal to sign up as many people across the country as possible, setting a goal of signing up 50,000 individuals. All it took was a swab of a cheek.
Along with the non-profit Delete Blood Cancer, the girls planned “donor jams,” which were events centered on getting people signed up. These events were held everywhere from student unions to rock concerts, even curbsides. By hosting the donor jams, the girls hoped to “spread the word about the need for donors, to squash the myths about the donation process, and to turn regular people into heroes by giving them the opportunity to save a life.”
SAM began their journey on January 19, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky after eight months of planning and a little under a year later, they ended their journey in Hawaii. Here, they hosted Donor Jam #193 at a local McDonald’s, drawing in people of Hawaiian and Asian decent.
Since starting Sharing America’s Marrow, the girls have helped register over 24,000 individuals who could help save lives all over the country. From those 24,000 people, they have successfully been able to find 342 matches, saving lives one treatment at a time.
The girls know that even after traveling through 50 states, their journey is far from over. They continue hosting Donor Jams to sign up potential heroes and spread the news of the importance of becoming a donor. Unfortunately, they hadn’t found a match for Sam on their journey, but an alternative form of treatment allows her to keep fighting and spreading her story. Just last week, she turned 24, a definite victory after being told she only had six months to live when she was first diagnosed.
For more information and to learn how you can help with SAM’s mission, go to their website or follow them on Instagram. You can learn more about registering for the National Bone Marrow Donor registry here or you can make a donation to take them farther on their journey here.