One month ago, Wired.com reported that Amit Gupta, a 32-year-old Indian-American entrepreneur with acute myeloid leukemia, had 30 days to find a bone marrow donor. His friends orchestrated a campaign called Amit Gupta Needs You and worked tirelessly to increase the number of South Asian donors in the registry so Gupta would have a better chance of receiving a transplant. But now, the 30 days have come and gone, and it’s time for Team Gupta to count their chips and cash them in.
Thanks to a social media blitz spanning from Twitter to Facebook to Tumblr and everything in between, a number of suitable donors have been identified during the two-month campaign. Gupta’s friends estimate they rallied hundreds, and maybe thousands, to have their cheeks swabbed to see if they were matches. The quest to get people tested for Gupta is over — he needs a transplant now, so doctors will have to move forward with the best matches Team Gupta could find.
Jessa Clark, who has been at Gupta’s side at Yale University’s cancer center in New Haven, CT, tells Wired.com that his doctors want to do the transplant as soon as possible. If they can’t lock down a donor in the next week or so, Gupta will have to start another round of consolidation chemotherapy to contain the cancer.
“He’s still getting over the last round of chemo,” says Clark. “There were some pretty gnarly side effects.”
Doctors will choose donors from a short list of the registrants identified as potential matches in preliminary tests, and do a series of more thorough evaluations to find out whether they are actually viable donors. Once a match is identified, the process will take about three weeks, meaning Gupta could receive a transplant before the end of the year. But if it takes longer, not only will Gupta have to risk further corneal damage and cell damage on the inside of his mouth — a couple of the chemo side effects Clark was referring to — he also won’t get a transplant until January at the earliest.
“Amit is definitely going to get a transplant as a result of what we’re doing,” says Jackie Dechongkit, who helps run the campaign. “But we’re sort of in wait-and-pray mode because historically, only half of South Asians who are tested actually agree to donate.”
In other words, though Amit Gupta Needs You has inspired perhaps thousands of people to get tested at “swab parties,” it could all amount to nothing if none of the matches follow through on their promise to donate their marrow.
As Dechongkit correctly stated, South Asians who register to be donors fail to follow through when contacted for a donation more than 50 percent of the time. (Sadia Latifi, a South Asian-American herself, talks about why this is the case in a Good magazine article that’s really worth reading.)
Team Gupta’s next move, Clark tells Wired.com, is to make sure people are aware of how simple and painless the donation process is. Marrow is extracted from the arm and generally takes six hours or so. The procedure is about as invasive as donating blood — it just takes longer.
Finding a donor is the difficult part, especially for South Asians. According to the National Marrow Donor Program, only 1.8 percent of the national registry is South Asian. Recently, tech companies like Google and Twitter have held swab drives in their offices and Indian celebrities like Salman Rushdie and Aziz Ansari have gotten behind the Gupta campaign to help raise awareness. (Check out Ansari’s video with Chris Pratt on AmitGuptaNeedsYou.com.)
It’s unlikely the campaign uncovered any perfect matches for Gupta — someone who meets all 10 of the most important criteria — but registrants who meet six or more out of 10 are usually adequate donors.
Although Gupta’s personal search for a match is likely over, Team Gupta plans to keep spreading the word to encourage more South Asians, and people in general, to join the marrow registry.
“He’s not just doing this for himself,” says Clark. “Obviously the goal is to find a match for him, but hundreds more people can be saved too.”