US mom in China to find marrow donor for daughter

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After five months of chemotherapy, Katie’s cancer went into remission. Despite a bout of congestive heart failure in 2007, she continued to excel in school, go out with friends and play sports. She was crowned second princess in this year’s Miss Teen Asia Sacramento pageant.

Then in April, after nearly three and a half years of remission, her cancer returned.

“They say if you make it to three years you have a good chance of being cured,” Cramer says. “We thought it was behind us, but it came back and now we have to try again to stop it.”

Relapsed AML is rarely cured by chemotherapy alone, according to Dr. Kent Jolly, Katie’s physician at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Roseville, Calif. After a relapse, the chances of being cured are lower than 50-50. The combination of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant provides the best hope.

But going into intensive chemotherapy left Katie’s immune system dangerously weakened. The day before Cramer’s departure for China, a CT scan showed an infection brewing in Katie’s lungs.

Cramer arrived alone in Beijing around midnight on July 3, a Saturday, carrying a bag full of fliers and a heart full of worry for Katie.

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Cramer held her first meeting later that day with China’s Red Cross Society, which runs the country’s bone marrow donor program.

China’s donor registry has grown from just 50,000 people in 2003 to more than 1.1 million _ still a small fraction of the Chinese population of 1.3 billion. By the end of June, more than 1,700 Chinese had made donations, including 75 to overseas recipients. But supply still falls far short of demand, with nearly 1 million people needing transplants.

An official reminded Cramer that nine potential matches for Katie in China had already been found. But Cramer still wanted to launch a donor drive in the southern region of Guangxi, where Katie is from. She left the meeting unsure if the Red Cross would support her trip.

Her e-mail inbox was full of suggestions from friends back home. She found it overwhelming. Where should she start? Who should she talk to? What should she do? A paralyzing feeling of helplessness kept her awake past midnight.

She also worried whether Katie was coping with the lung infection. Turning to a fresh page in her yellow legal pad, she listed the hours of the day in China and their corresponding times in California. She drew little stars next to the best times to phone home: 10 a.m. in Beijing _ 7 p.m. in Sacramento _ got two stars.

A devout Christian, Cramer opened the Bible and read a line from Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding.” Comforted, she fell asleep.

The next morning at 10 a.m., Cramer logged onto Skype and an alert came in within two seconds. A window opened to show Katie in a black T-shirt, sitting in her hospital bed in an isolation ward decorated with get-well cards. Her head was newly shaved because her hair had been falling out in clumps from the chemotherapy.

“Oh my baby!” Cramer says. “Did you get a shave?”

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