ALAMEDA -- Ten-year-old Myla Cunanan, a fourth-grader at Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Alameda, has been in Kaiser Oakland since March 24, undergoing her second round of chemotherapy for myeloid sarcoma, a form of acute myeloid leukemia.
Ruby Bridges Elementary hosted a "Myla Needs a Match" bone marrow donor registration drive last Saturday that was attended by school parents, Myla's classmates, Kaiser Oakland staff, volunteers from the Asian American Donor Program, or AADP, congregants from the Alameda Church of Christ, which Myla's family attends, the Alameda Police Department and many others. By day's end, 97 adults had registered to donate bone marrow.
"She's in good spirits; she's very brave," said Myla's mother, Leyna Cunanan, whose daughter was diagnosed with the disease in March. "She needs a bone marrow transplant in order to survive."
Myla's cousin, 13-year-old Kaitlyn Francisco, who attends Lincoln Middle School, welcomed visitors as they arrived at the bone marrow drive.
"I want to work hard in order for my cousin to get better," Kaitlyn said. "Myla is very sweet, funny and considerate. We visit her every Sunday. Sometimes she's very cheerful, and sometimes she's weak and tired. When we visit her, she always tries to be active."
Myla's sister, Marielle, 13, and her brother, Matthew, 15, also welcomed visitors to the bone marrow drive, standing outside the school where dozens of purple balloons danced in the wind.
"She's really playful and talkative," said Marielle of her little sister. "I want to help find a match for my sister so she can heal."
Myla's aunt, Sarlea Atizado, described her niece as "a very sweet, caring and God-fearing child."
"She has a strong faith in God and does so many selfless acts," Atizado said. "Even in times of sickness, she worries about other people, especially her loved ones. One of her prayers was, 'God, please heal me so that my loved ones will not worry about me, especially my grandmother.' Myla has not only given us the opportunity to take care and pray for her, but has made our family even stronger despite this ordeal. God has a purpose for everything."
Myla is of Filipino descent, which makes it more difficult to find a bone marrow match, according to AADP volunteer Jaydeep Pathak, who explained bone marrow donation procedures to potential donors at the event.
"Of 10.5 million people registered on the www.BeTheMatch.org website, only 7 percent (or 720,000 people) are of Asian descent," Pathak said.
According to the AADP website, 70 percent of families can't find a match within their own family, but patients will mostly find a match within their ethnic group.
Myla's mom said that her daughter loves to volunteer to help others, she loves art and drawing, and she sings in the church choir.
"This bone marrow drive is not just for Myla; it's for all patients who are in need of a bone marrow transplant," said Leyna, who wants the Asian community to be educated about bone marrow transplants. "When people hear the words 'bone marrow,' they are intimidated, but what we've learned is that it's simple and can save lives."
Pathak said that 25 percent of bone marrow transplants are accomplished through marrow collection from the donor's hipbone, using a needle and syringe (the marrow is regenerated within a few weeks); 75 percent of donations are through peripheral blood stem cells, which is through blood donation. In Myla's case, donors should be 18 to 44 years old and in good general health.
Gladys Macalino, a parent and co-worker of Myla's mother, was registering at last Saturday's donor event.
"I have children of my own, so I know what Leyna must be going through," Macalino said. "It's hard for a parent, and I know that I would feel the need for support from other parents."
Emilia Mrak, with the Alameda Police Department, and Gaylord Gelle, an APD volunteer, showed up to register.
"I just heard about it, and I wanted to help," said Officer Mrak, who later posed with Gelle for the "Swabbed -- I registered as a marrow donor today!" photo op.