- Associated Press - Thursday, July 15, 2010

LIUZHOU, CHINA (AP) - Sherrie Cramer breaks into stifled sobs as she nears the dirt-streaked former orphanage in China where her daughter lived as a severely malnourished infant.

Once again, Cramer is fighting to keep the child she adopted alive. But this time, it’s a battle against leukemia, and the odds are not in her favor.

Without a bone marrow transplant, Katie, now 16, may die from the aggressive blood cancer. The family has just a month, maybe two, to find a donor.

The teenager has no known blood relatives and her best chance of a match will be someone from her Zhuang ethnic group, China’s largest minority of 16 million. So Cramer, of Sacramento, Calif., made the heart-wrenching decision to leave her daughter and go to China in search of a donor in the city of Katie’s birth.

“I needed to come and do whatever I could do to ask the people of China to help me,” says the 56-year-old English teacher and mother of three, all adopted from China. “I can give her everything, I can give her love and clothes and an education, but I cannot give her genetic markers for a match.”

Cramer’s effort highlights the lengths to which some ethnic minorities must go to find lifesaving bone marrow transplants. The Asian American Donor Program says ethnic minorities overall have a 50 percent chance of finding a perfect match from the U.S. bone marrow donor registry of 8 million people, compared to an 80 percent chance for Caucasians.

In 2003, the Wisconsin mother of a 6-year-old adopted Chinese girl suffering from a rare blood disease also visited her daughter’s birthplace in search of a marrow donor. She succeeded, and Kailee Wells survived. But it took two years to find the right candidate, and the Cramers have far less time.

A search of bone marrow donor registries in the U.S. and other countries came up with 41 potential matches for Katie. Not one panned out.

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Katie has fought for survival before. When the Cramers went to China in 1995 to pick her up, the 14-month-old baby weighed a mere 14 pounds. She was so weak she couldn’t sit up.

The first night, Katie cried every time Cramer tried to put her down to sleep. Cramer eventually slept with the baby lying on her stomach.

“She didn’t want to lose that contact,” Cramer says. “She knew I was someone who was going to keep her safe.”

Four years ago, after Katie finished sixth grade, the normally active 12-year-old who enjoyed gymnastics and soccer suddenly turned lethargic. A mysterious bruise appeared on one leg. After a vacation with her best friend’s family, the girl’s mother said: “You need to take Katie to the doctor because something’s not right.”

The diagnosis of acute myelogenous leukemia hit like a blow to the stomach. There was a long silence. Then Cramer got up, walked into the hallway outside the doctor’s office and pressed her face against the wall. That night, Cramer and her husband Michael clung to each other as they cried in bed.

AML is a rapidly progressing cancer more common in adults than children. It affects the blood and bone marrow _ the spongy core inside the hollow area of the bones. Katie had a 50-50 chance of survival.

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