AZUH email@example.com_county.toronto.toronto_star 2006-10-02 published
Uzoma AZUH, 23: Got minorities on registry
Medical student saw need at marrow registry
His efforts led to matches for other leukemia patients
By Tanya TALAGA, Health Reporter
In less than a year, cancer came to Uzoma AZUH and took his life, but not before the 23-year-old medical student made a difference in the lives of others.
AZUH, who suffered from a fast-moving form of leukemia, started a movement to create awareness about the need for more ethnic minorities to get on Canada's national bone marrow registry.
The second-year student at Wayne State University in Detroit was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia last September. The Windsor man, of Nigerian descent, needed a bone marrow transplant to greatly increase his chance of survival.
Despite his efforts and those of family and Friends, that match never came. AZUH died August 13 of multiple organ failure after eight rounds of chemotherapy.
While he didn't find a match, his efforts led to the pairing of three patients with bone marrow donors, said his brother, Ogochukwu (Ogo) AZUH.
"He knew of (two) before he died," said AZUH, 21. Like his big brother, Ogo AZUH is studying medicine at Wayne State.
Uzoma AZUH wanted to become a doctor so he could continue helping other people, said his best friend Sonali Bhalsod, 20.
"Because of all the work he has done, two or three people will live now," she said. "He got his wish. I couldn't possibly want more for him than that."
Shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer, AZUH began a campaign in the Windsor area to make people aware of the need to get on the bone marrow registry.
He was featured in a May 15 article in the Star about how the national bone marrow registry is currently overwhelmingly Caucasian. According to figures available at the time, of nearly 230,000 Canadians registered on the unrelated donor transplant list, only 0.5 per cent of potential donors classify themselves as black, says Canadian Blood Services, which manages the registry.
One per cent of those on the list are aboriginal, 1.6 per cent East Indian, 3.6 per cent Asian, 0.3 per cent Hispanic and 83 per cent Caucasian. The others are classified as unknown.
Bone marrow is found in the breast bone, ribs, hip bones, skull and spine. Marrow produces infection-fighting white blood cells, oxygen-rich red blood cells and platelets used in clotting. Transplants are used to fight immune or blood disorder diseases such as acute myelogenous leukemia, in which the marrow produces faulty infection-fighting cells.
"A lot of traits in the bone marrow are inherited," AZUH told the Star. "I'm more likely to find a match in the ethnic community. People don't understand how important this is."
The week prior to AZUH's diagnosis, Ogo remembers him coughing a lot. Then came the night sweats. One morning AZUH woke up with rashes "all over his body," said Ogo. His brother went to hospital and was diagnosed days later.
Whether he was recuperating at home or from his hospital bed, AZUH worked hard to spread the word about donating.
"His campaign was for bone marrow donation awareness and testing, so that no one would ever have to go through what he or my family went through," Ogo and his sister Chinye wrote in an email to Friends shortly after their brother's death. "Uzo's philosophy was always… if things were hard for him, he would make it easier for the next person."
AZUH was an inspiration to those who knew him, said Ron GILES of Windsor, a bone marrow donor who worked with AZUH to raise awareness.
GILES, 42, donated his marrow to an unrelated teenage boy in 2003 and was so moved by the experience that he went to work trying to help others find a match, setting up a website, http://www.donorcorner.com. GILES visited AZUH shortly before he died. "He was optimistic everything would work out," GILES said. "We need to put more emphasis on getting people on the bone marrow registry. There could be matches out there. We need to carry on his fight."
As well as his brother and sister, AZUH leaves his mother Margaret and his father Doctor Victor AZUH.
A funeral was held in August.
To learn more about the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry, visit the Canadian Blood Services website at http://www.bloodservices.ca
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