Valiant cancer fighters galvanise Indian Americans

March 31st, 2008 - 11:48 am ICT by admin  

By Parveen Chopra
New York, March 31 (IANS) Two Indian Americans caught the imagination of the South Asian community last year for bravely fighting blood cancer in the prime of their life and galvanising the community through bone marrow drives to help other victims. One of them died last week. Sameer Bhatia, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, died Thursday in Seattle at age 31. A memorial service was held Saturday, which was webcast for the many who knew him.

Vinay Chakravarthy, a 29-year-old Californian doing his medical residency, had a relapse two months ago but continues to fight the disease.

Both Bhatia and Chakravarthy were diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukaemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, around the same time a year and half ago. They needed bone marrow transplants to survive, but there were not enough South Asians on the registry of the National Marrow Donor Programme (NMDP). For genetic reasons, a South Asian’s probability of finding a bone marrow match is 1 to 20,000 while the ratio for Caucasians is an unproblematic 1 to 15.

So friends and families of the two married men started bone marrow drives to save their lives as well as to raise awareness of the need for South Asians to join the NMDP registry. As Rashmi, wife of Vinay Chakravarthy, said: “Our community can no longer afford to deny each other the gift of life”.

“Save Vinay” and “Save Sameer” teams linked up their websites last year to take collective action. Their campaign used blogging, spread the word on Facebook, and had videos on YouTube, with appeals by the likes of actor Kal Penn and even an endorsement by presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

There has since been an outpouring of support from the Indian diaspora, coverage in the international and Indian media, and an award from NMDP last November.

Nearly 25,000 have registered till date in over 300 bone marrow registration drives in cities across the country.

Eventually, both Vinay and Sameer received bone marrow transplants towards the end of last year, besides chemotherapy. But Sameer fell victim last week to leukaemia’s complications, ending in a stroke.

“Bhatia and Chakravarthy supported each other like brothers through this journey,” Priti Radhakrishnan, a spokesperson for Chakravarthy, told IANS. They had many common friends but somehow had never met.

“Vinay’s family and friends are devastated by the loss of Sameer. He was a force of positive energy and thoughts through this journey and we are determined to honour him by living fully and loving freely - as his father and wife Reena asked in the memorial service,” Radhakrishnan said.

Bhatia, a Stanford alumnus, was a founder of the barter site MonkeyBin and mobile gaming company Octane Technologies. He also contributed to the launch of the American India Foundation.

Chakravarthy, from Fremont, California, obtained his medical degree from Boston University and has been a resident in orthopaedics at Boston Medical Centre. He was married in 2005 to Rashmi, a medical student at Boston University.

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