KS grad battling rare blood disease seeks bone marrow donor

  • Courtesy photo Jaden Ah Mow and Be the Match Hawaii will be holding a bone marrow donor drive on Saturday in the Kailua-Kona Walmart parking lot from noon-6 p.m.

  • Photo from Imua Jaden Facebook page Jaden Ah Mow, left, and Walter Ah Mow pose for a photo. The Ah Mows and Be the Match Hawaii will hold a bone marrow donor drive from noon-6 p.m. Saturday in the Kailua-Kona Walmart parking lot.

Want to save a life?

You’ll have the chance to do just that this Saturday in Kailua-Kona.

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Jaden Ah Mow, a 2020 Kamehameha Schools Hawaii graduate and his family, along with Be the Match Hawaii, will host a bone marrow donor drive-in from noon-6 p.m. at the parking lot of the Kailua-Kona Walmart.

Ah Mow was diagnosed in January with aplastic anemia, a rare blood disease that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells. In the ensuing weeks and months, trips to Oahu for treatment have become the norm for the 18-year-old.

The most effective treatment for aplastic anemia, however, is typically a bone marrow transplant. And even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, finding a matching donor was often difficult.

“It’s usually about 1 in 450, that’s the odds of finding a matching donor with the same blood tissue type,” said Nainoa Wong, Be the Match Hawaii’s community and engagement representative, noting the difference between blood type and blood tissue type. “A lot of it is based on your ethnic background. … In Hawaii, because there’s a lot of mixed nationalities and races, sometimes it makes it even harder.”

When the pandemic reached Hawaii’s shores, finding a donor became an even taller task for Ah Mow and his family. Already, they’ve had a pair of donor drives on Hawaii Island in search of a match. In Kona, they’re hoping the third time is the charm.

“Normally, everybody can come; with the pandemic, everybody stays home,” said Jaden’s grandfather, Walter Ah Mow, a retired Hawaii Police Department officer. “The fact remains: we need a match.”

Registration, which can be done at www.bethematchhawaii.org, is a quick process that can be completed without even leaving your vehicle.

“It’s real simple for a potential donor,” Wong said. “They just have to fill out a short online health questionnaire that’s about 5-10 minutes, they’ll do a cheek swab and that completes the registration process.”

The only requirement is that potential donors must be between 18 and 44 years old. Those who aren’t able to attend the event in person can still answer the questionnaire at www.bethematchhawaii.org and have a swab kit mailed to them.

“We’re going to be there, have people standing by to assist. All you do is drive up; if you have your phone, there’s a site that we’re going to assist you with,” Walter Ah Mow said. “It’s real simple, it’s fast, it’s not complicated. We just need people to come down.”

Wong and Walter Ah Mow hope Saturday will be a big day, with new registrations reaching into the triple digits.

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“Even if they’re not a match with Jaden, they might be a match for someone else,” said Walter Ah Mow. “We’re hoping for as much as we can.”

Email Tom Linder at tlinder@westhawaiitoday.com.