The first time I met Alana Dung she was peering curiously through the slats of a crib in the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, a Winnie-the-Pooh blanket in her clutches, her mother and father at her side.
She stared silently and smiled. Her beautiful brown eyes filled the room and grabbed me in an instant — as they did all of O‘ahu the next morning when her photo appeared on the front page of the Honolulu Advertiser.
Alana was not even two years old and I suspect she had no idea of the journey ahead. None of us did. At that place and at that moment there was a palpable sense of fear and urgency, but also of hope.
The ultimate story of her life was unknown. In a way, it still is.
With an influence felt today from Asia to North America to Europe, this precious little girl who died from leukemia following a bone marrow transplant and a dogged 18-month fight has survived. Alana’s legend is one of life.
Of the 30,788 people who responded directly to Alana’s plea for help and joined the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry, 52 so far have continued the chain of hope by the giving of their bone marrow. Lives have received second chances in Hawaii, the Mainland, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands.
The aloha stoked by Alana then and now is infectious. The joys and blessings bestowed by the donors ineffable. The potential infinite.
Meanwhile, the Alana Dung Research Foundation embodies the spirit and spunk of its namesake in the fight against serious childhood illnesses. In the carrying of Alana’s torch, the foundation provided research grants to the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank and established a visiting professorship program through the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The 4-year-old Hawaii Cord Blood Bank bolsters the dearth of bone marrow and cord blood donors of Asian and Pacific Islander descent, and of other mixed-ethnic groups. Finding a match for a heterogeneous individual is one of the toughest challenges of these transplants.
Ironically, Alana’s bone marrow match was not found within her own donor drives, which nearly tripled the size of the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
Her donor came from Taiwan, a harbinger to Alana’s global reach today.
Gannett News Service Correspondent
The concept of “victim souls” was introduced to me this year during an interview with a mother in Miami who had cared for her comatose daughter for 30 consecutive years. As Kaye O’Bara explained the belief that some souls are born for the sole purpose of fostering virtue at their own expense, my thoughts drifted to Alana Dung.
How else to explain a 3 1/2-year-old girl who spent nearly half of her life locked in a very public fight with leukemia? How else to explain tens of thousands of strangers rallying to her defense by joining the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry?
The effects of Alana’s life continue to build three years after her death. Today, 48 cancer victims from from Hawaii to Japan, New Zealand, Australia, France, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Austria, Canada and the US mainland have found bone marrow matches as a result of donor drives to help Alana.
Meanwhile, the foundation that carries her torch, the Alana Dung Research Foundation, is planting seeds of hope through research grants ($75,000 awarded to date) given to the two-year-old Hawaii Cord Blood Bank and an annual visiting professorship position through the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine.
The two-year-old Hawaii Cord Blood Bank bolsters the severe shortage of bone marrow and cord blood donors of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage, and of other mixed ethnic groups. Finding a match for a heterogeneous individual is one of the toughest challenges of these transplants.
And in the first year of the visiting professorship, Dr. Jean Sanders, an international authority on stem cell transplantation and the director of Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, will work with the Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Unit at Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children. The ongoing visiting professorship program is intended to facilitate scientific collaboration between researchers here and on the mainland in pursuit of cures and more effective treatments.
When medical breakthroughs for leukemia or other cancers are eventually discovered, the Alana Dung Research Foundation may not make the headlines. But if you trace the path taken, I bet you will clearly find its fingerprints – and with them, Alana’s.
Gannett News Service Correspondent