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Korean American to Give `New Life` via Transplant

Posted February. 22, 2010 08:55,   


Jang Hyeon-jin, a Korean-American office worker, got an e-mail request from the U.S. Hematopoietic Stem Cell Bank in June last year to donate bone marrow.

Jang, 40, was found to have a bone marrow gene compatible with a leukemia patient.

Though he feared undergoing an operation, he said he accepted the request because he could give a new lease on life to the leukemia sufferer.

While attending Daewon Foreign Language High School in Seoul in 1988, Jang and his family immigrated to the U.S. and settled down in Los Angeles. He earned a bachelor’s from California State University-Northridge, and later obtained U.S. citizenship and joined a film company.

Jang returned to Korea in 1999 to take over his company’s branch and has lived in Seoul since then. He is now an executive of a subsidiary of a large Korean corporation.

Jang has been hospitalized ahead of the bone marrow donation at a Seoul hospital. He expressed his willingness to become a donor in October 2006 when he visited the U.S. He said he had heard from a volunteer worker for bone marrow donation that ethnic Korean residents in the U.S. are reluctant to donate bone marrow.

The registration process for donation is simpler than in Korea, where blood is required. In the U.S., a sample of cells from the face and the bottom of the tongue with cotton swabs is enough for registration.

The donation request came almost four years after Jang registered as a donor. He said he thought the recipient would be an American, so he prepared for an operation in the U.S. Last month, however, he was told that the recipient would be a Korean, though no further details about the patient came because of a confidentiality rule.

The bone marrow recipient, who is suffering from chronic myelogenous leukemia, or cancer of the white blood cells, has had difficulty finding a donor for several years. The sole treatment for someone with the disease is a bone marrow transplant, but the probability of finding a compatible gene is one in 20,000.

The patient had had no luck looking for a donor through a Korean association of hematopoietic stem cell banks and similar organizations in Japan and Taiwan. Fortunately, however, the U.S. organization found a match.

The patient also did not expect the donor to be an ethnic Korean, either.

Jang said at the hospital, “I didn’t inform my mother of my operation because I don’t want her to worry. Only my brother knows about this,” adding, “It’s good to know I can save the life of a Korean.”

The business executive is familiar with the suffering brought on by an incurable disease; his father died last month after struggling with Lou Gehrig`s disease for a year.

“It was very painful to see my father get worse,” Jang said. “I’d like to ease the burden on the patient and his or her family by promptly donating my bone marrow.”

To maintain good health before the operation, he said he quit drinking. “I hope the operation will be successful to give the patient a new lease on life.”