Save a life: Kamehameha Schools grad battling rare blood disease seeks bone marrow donor

  • Jaden Ah Mow. (Photo from Imua Jaden Facebook page/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Jaden Ah Mow and Be the Match Hawaii will be holding a bone marrow donor drive on Saturday, Dec. 19 in the Kailua-Kona Wal Mart parking lot from noon until 6 p.m. (Courtesy photo/West Hawaii Today)

  • 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 to 6 p.m. Saturday in the Kailua-Kona Walmart parking lot. (Photo from Imua Jaden Facebook page/Special to West Hawaii Today)

Want to save a life?

You’ll have the chance to do just that this Saturday in Kailua-Kona. Jaden Ah Mow, a 2020 Kamehameha Schools Hawaii graduate and his family, along with Be the Match Hawaii, will be holding a bone marrow donor drive-in the parking lot of the Kailua-Kona Walmart from noon to 6 p.m.

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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 18-year-old Ah Mow. The most effective treatment for aplastic anemia, however, is typically a bone marrow transplant. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, finding a matching donor is often difficult.

“It’s usually about one 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 held 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,” said Wong. “They just have to fill out a short online health questionnaire that’s about 5 to 10 minutes, they’ll do a cheek swab and that completes the registration process.”

The only requirement is potential donors must be between 18 and 44 years old. Those who aren’t able to join 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,” added Walter Ah Mow. “It’s real simple, it’s fast, it’s not complicated. We just need people to come down.”

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

“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.”

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