Bringing Hope, Creating Miracles

Emcee Denise Dador (right) presided over the first-time meeting between marrow donor Jennifer Lee and transplant recipient Mario Cases.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) celebrated 26 years of saving lives at its Starnight Gala on Oct. 7 at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach.

Highlights included a first-time meeting between a bone marrow donor and a transplant recipient, and an award for a long-time volunteer.

Founded in 1991, A3M helps Asian Pacific Americans and other people of color suffering from life-threatening blood diseases by conducting year-round drives for potential bone marrow donors, adding them to the national Be The Match Registry. If a tissue match cannot be found among family members, the next best chance of finding a match is among people of the same ethnic/racial background as the patient.

Nancy Sakakura presents the 2017 Human Spirit Award to Gene Kanamori.

Hemant Mistry, event co-chair, recalled an incident three years ago that reminded him of “the incredible work A3M does every day to save lives, bring hope and create miracles, serving families and patients.” He had just organized a donor drive at the Los Angeles office of his company, Capital Group, and was walking back to his car in an underground garage, carrying an A3M banner. A black SUV with darkened windows started coming toward him and he became apprehensive.

“The SUV pulls up in front of me, the window comes slowly down. The man behind the wheel … looks at me and says, ‘A3M! I registered 10 years ago.’ A few years later he was called in as a donor match. He saved a 9-year-old girl’s life … I could not believe I just met someone who had just created a miracle and saved a life … He gave me a high-five.”

Denise Dador, health reporter for ABC 7 Eyewitness News, served as emcee. When she moved to L.A. 19 years ago, “this was one of the first charities that caught my attention,” she said. “It really touched me … how much faith you have in humanity, how much faith you have in each other … When we’re together, we can definitely save lives. What we have here is much more important than money.”

Dador introduced Matt Medina, a Filipino American LAPD officer and father of two who still needs to find a match. A3M has organized drives on his behalf, including one at Filipino Night at Dodger Stadium. “From the 1,600 people that have been recruited by A3M because of his story, six people have found matches,” she announced. “… The effort is ongoing, not only for Matt but for many patients from many communities that are looking for a second chance at life.”

A3M Director Susan Choi introduced Tom Kurai, abbot at Sozenji Buddhist Temple and director of Los Angeles Taiko Center, who was scheduled to undergo a transplant the following week. She acknowledged another patient who was not present, Krissy Kobata, who was also scheduled for a transplant.

Nancy Sakakura, who received her transplant 11 years ago, presented the 2017 Human Spirit Award to Gene Kanamori, an old friend, longtime leader of A3M, and gala co-chair. She recalled a conversation with her husband Mark: “When I was first diagnosed in 2002 with a bone marrow disease, Gene came up to him and said, ‘I have to do something to help, I just have to do something’ … He meant it. He’s so sweet and so caring.

“Often people get involved when they know someone that’s affected by deadly disease. Since Gene had been previously involved with A3M before I was diagnosed, he was already committed. I’d like to think that he stepped up his game because I was in need of a marrow transplant … but actually this is just who Gene is. He is a caring person. His real reason for all his dedication and commitment throughout the years to A3M is that he knows A3M saves lives … His encouragement, support and guidance have meant a second chance for all patients in need.”

Sakakura shared a personal recollection: “Our boys used to play OCO (Orange Coast Optimist) basketball together as children. Now they’re young men. He was often heard in the gym … challenging a referee’s calls. Our boys’ teams were playing in a basketball tournament in Northern California. Of course, being my quiet self … I might have been complaining a little bit about the ref’s calls … Suddenly, the game came to a halt. We thought the kids were getting technical fouls for unsportsmanlike behavior. To my surprise, the ref was pointing at Gene and I, so basically Gene got me in trouble. So we had to keep our mouths shut the rest of the game or be escorted out of the gym.”

From left: A3M Director Susan Choi, marrow recipient Tom Kurai, A3M Development Director Madhuri Mistry, and emcee Denise Dador of ABC 7.

After accepting the award, Kanamori jokingly gave a rebuttal: “That’s not how it happened … I wish your kids were here too because they’ll verify Nancy was yelling her head off. I was quiet. When they asked the referee who was doing it, they said it was the person with the masculine voice … From that point on for the rest of the season, I did not sit with them.”

On a serious note, he added, “My family is real close to your family and we’ve been on that journey for a very long time. Every time we see Nancy, we get so happy.”

Kanamori acknowledged the presence of people from UPS, where he worked for 28 years, and from community organizations in which he is active, including Keiro (where he is director of human resources), Japanese American National Museum, Go For Broke National Education Center, Sansei Legacy Group, Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy, and Little Tokyo Service Center, A3M’s fiscal agent.