Japanese American bone marrow donors are needed to potentially save the life of the Rev. Shuichi “Thomas” Kurai, who was diagnosed with T-cell leukemia-lymphoma in January.
As is the case with most minority populations, the potential Japanese American donor count in the national marrow and stem cell registry is extremely low. According to Mylanah Yolangco, an outreach coordinator for the Asian American Donor Program, only 0.3 percent of the national Be The Match Registry are of Japanese descent. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, there were 34,070 people of Japanese descent registered in 2016.
Yolangco said ethnicity is the most important factor in increasing the match probability.
“We tell people ethnicity matters because, just like you inherit your hair color and eye color, you also inherit your tissue type,” she said.
Although that number of donors of Japanese ancestry may seem high on its own, AADP Executive Director Carol Gillespie said Kurai has not been matched with anyone in the current registry yet. She said that Kurai’s best chance for survival would be to find him a donor match from the community.
“The longer it takes (Kurai) to find a donor, the more his disease will progress, and it will progress to the point that he may no longer be eligible for a transplant or he will be forced to make a decision about what type of transplant he should have,” Gillespie said. She adds that if a donor is not found for Kurai, he will die.
Since his diagnosis, Kurai, who is 69 years old, said he has lost 25 pounds, has less energy and has a smaller appetite. Despite this, the minister at the Sozenji Buddhist Temple in Montebello, Calif. is stable and still tends to temple matters, although he cut his activities in half, and continues to play taiko (Japanese drums).
Born in Ise-Shima, in Japan’s Mie Prefecture, Kurai moved to Los Angeles with his family when he was 5 years old. He has been a minister at the Sozenji Temple for 31 years after his father, the Rev. Shuyu Kurai, died in 1986. In addition to performing and teaching taiko, he is the director of the Taiko Center of Los Angeles. His favorite past-time is spending time with his 3-year-old grandson, Cody.
For now, Kurai said he is concentrating on building up his immune system in preparation for the bone marrow transplant procedure, if a match can be found.
Gillespie encourages people to register online to become a donor using the referral link https://join.bethematch.org/Tom. People can also register in person at any registration drive in the Bay Area, and elsewhere.
AADP will host a registration drive at the Nihonmachi Street Fair Saturday, Aug. 5 and Sunday, Aug. 6 in San Francisco’s Japantown, where they will promote Kurai’s need for a donor. For Kurai, this may come full circle. A Los Angeles community activist in the 1970s, Kurai drove up to the first Nihonmachi Street Fair in 1973 with two Japanese American youth groups – Flower of the Dragon from Gardena and Young Spirits from Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles.
For a list of upcoming registration drives, visit www.aadp.org/drive/.