“I barely even knew what leukemia was before a month ago, or what the bone marrow did.”
Today, 32 year-old Amit Gupta knows all too well what bone marrow does, or is supposed to do.
“I have AML. It’s a type of acute leukemia. Instead of bone marrow making red cells, white cells and platelets, it’s pushing out white cells which aren’t fully formed.
"As a result, my blood stream is getting filled up with kind of half formed white blood cells which aren’t very effective.”
“My immune system is pretty much zeroed out.”
And so Amit, founder of Photojojo, a San Francisco based company committed to making photography fun, sits in a room at Yale-New Haven's Smilow Cancer Hospital. Because his immunity is so weak, we didn’t risk sending a camera crew in to talk to him. Instead we communicate through Skype. He is unshaven. Wearing glasses and a knit cap with broad red and blue stripes, set off by white piping.
The smile, so apparent in the images you see when you Google his name is there, barely. It shows up in odd spots throughout our talk.
“It’s been about three weeks.”
“The first couple of days were pretty hard. Basically the day I found out, I packed up my clothes, I called my parents and decided that I should come home to get my treatment somewhere nearby them. I wasn’t well enough to fly so I went to a hospital in California to get a blood transfusion and antibiotics. They started me on seven straight days of 24 hour chemo. That was pretty miserable.” It was at this point he laughed the chagrined laugh of a man who knows what going through hell feels like.
“I think the hardest part is that you build a life thinking you’ve got 85 years, and you make plans for what you’re going to do, raising a family and all that kind of stuff. And you don’t know what to do when you realize that’s not going to happen.”
The course of treatment for Amit will include a bone marrow biopsy to discover whether the 24/7 chemo killed the cancer. If so, the waiting begins. Two weeks of watching the clock. Then another biopsy. If that’s clean then it’s two months of consolidation therapy, less intense chemo and a few weeks of recovery. Once that’s over, the doctors say Amit’s best chances are with a bone marrow transplant.
But the chances of finding someone to match are slim.
Amit is Indian.
And the chances of a South Asian finding a match is 1 in 20,000.
That’s compared to 8 in 10 for Caucasians.
And so, some of Amit’s best friends are offering a reward to encourage donations.
Author and marketing expert Seth Godin, put up $10,000 to the person who matches Amit. That offer was then matched by Michael Galbert, co-founder of the photo editing company Aviary and Jake Lodwick, co-founder of video sharing service Vimeo.
That’s 30k for the person who matches Amit’s bone marrow.
The offer is getting internet buzz. Trending on twitter and causing a stir in the medical community. Is it ethical to offer money to match one patient, and not hundreds of thousands of others?
“This is what community at the base level is about,” Godin said. “Why is it ‘opt-in?’ We’re not taking anything from you other than finding if you’re a match. Once you’re a match, then you make your own decision.”
“My inducement is not about donating, it’s about registering,”
Amit says the reward for donations means more people who would have never thought about being part of the donor bank, now are. And that means matches for thousands of people who would have never stood a chance otherwise.
“Just seeing all these people getting tested or organizing drives, I don’t think any single thing other than that has lifted my mood. I cannot be thankful enough.”
When lives are saved by the kindness of strangers, can anyone really?
To help: go to amitguptaneedsyou.com