A Matchmaker Who Save Lives: Kristeen Singh
Kristeen Singh helps people of South Asian ethnicity get matched with other people of South Asian ethnicity, but it’s for something far more important than romance – it’s to save lives. Kristeen, 29, of Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches recruits members of the South Asian community to be potential bone marrow donors. Each year, many people diagnosed with blood-related diseases require a bone marrow transplant. About 30 percent can find a donor in their own families. The other 70 percent, however, must find a donor outside their family. They are most likely to match with someone of their own race or ethnicity, which is why patients of South Asian heritage are counting on more members of their ethnic community to get registered. Kristeen schedules bone marrow drives at everywhere from temples to bars in her effort to get more people of South Asian ethnicity to provide the simple cheek swab that enters them in the registry. To learn more about how Kristeen is helping save lives, check out this week’s Nonprofit Spotlight.
Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M)
South Asian Outreach and Recruitment Volunteer
Long Beach, California
California State Universtiy Long Beach
B.A. in Sociology, minor In Psychology
Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches
South Asian Outreach and Recruitment Volunteer
Human Resources Manager
Human Resources Intern
Los Angeles World Airports
Human Resources Intern
About the non-profit
The mission of Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches (A3M) is to improve the health and welfare of all people by providing education, assistance, and prompt access to potential marrow/blood cell donors. A3M was formed by a grassroots movement triggered by the serious under representation of Asian and Pacific Islander (API) marrow donors in the national registry. Staff and volunteers work with the Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino, South Asian, and Vietnamese communities to raise awareness about the need for more donors. I am the South Asian Outreach and Recruitment Coordinator for A3M’s South Asian Task Force.
Madhuri Mistry started the South Asian Task Force when her husband was diagnosed with leukemia and could not find a match. It was then that she realized there was a critical need to increase the pool of donors. Luckily, her husband never needed to have a transplant and is doing well. Madhuri is still dedicated to the cause and works at A3M providing patient assistance and marketing support.
Every year, many South Asian patients are diagnosed with blood-related diseases. In order to survive, they need a bone marrow transplant from a matching donor. Because ethnicity is a determining factor in finding a match, patients will most likely find a donor within their racial and ethnic community. Nearly 30% of patients will find a matching donor within their families. The remaining 70% must search for an unrelated donor.
Unfortunately, a very small percentage of South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Nepaleses and Bangladeshis) are registered to be marrow donors. South Asians comprise approximately only 1% of the National Registry. The more South Asians that register, the more lives that will be saved. It’s that simple: we are trying to save one life at a time!
What are your day-to-day responsibilities?
This job has inspired so much growth in so many ways. From writing articles, designing ads, and printing posters, to creating a DVD, managing a volunteer program, and organizing fundraisers. Of course I have help from all the volunteers and A3M staff! Most recently I have had two great volunteers assist in writing articles and creating ads.
What keeps me busiest is working with patient families and scheduling bone marrow drives. It is interesting to schedule drives with temples, mosques, gurdwaras, business groups, and fraternities.You name it and we have been there. If it’s a place where people are willing to help sick South Asian patients, I have probably been there. This weekend I will be at a temple during the day and a bar at night. The diversity of venues is very interesting.
My goal is to get South Asians between the ages of 18-60 to register, so I have to track them down! It is so beautiful. I often think this job helps bring South Asians together (e.g. A Muslim can match a Hindu patient). The divisions disappear when it comes to saving lives.
Most notable milestones
One of the very important things that we do is contact donors who match patients.One donor I contacted was Poonam. Poonam had registered at a drive in the Jain community. She was in the process of planning her wedding and was surprised to receive the call. Poonam was overcome with emotion and couldn’t believe she could possibly have the opportunity to save someone’s life.
After I explained the donation procedure, she revealed to me that in 2002, she had been in a horrible car accident and was lucky enough to sustain only minor injuries. She told me God had decided to save her but take the life of another.She had always wondered why: why she survived and not the other person. She now felt she knew why. She decided to donate and made a miracle happen.
Poonam knew that she was saving the live of a 47-year-old, and in one year she would have the opportunity to learn the identity of that person. Poonam has received an anonymous card from the donor thanking her for being a life-saving angel. To know that I was part of this process is truly a beautiful gift.
What’s the niche?
I have a job that directly saves the lives of South Asian patients. I also get to provide people the opportunity of giving the gift of life!
Sometimes I look at the patients that are alive today and realize how much compassion and love there is in this world. They are alive today because of the kindness and compassion of a stranger.
What’s the biggest challenge?
It’s hard to get people to register. Many are unaware of how easy it is.
- Fill out a consent form.
- Provide a swab of cheek cells for tissue typing.
- Ages 18-60.
- Be in good general health.
A small amount of marrow is collected from your hip bone using a needle and syringe. Anesthesia is used during this simple hospital procedure.
Afterwards, you may be sore for a few days to a few weeks, but normal activity may be resumed. Your marrow replenishes itself within a few weeks.
You receive injections of Filgrastim for five days to increase the blood-forming cells in your bloodstream. You may experience flu-like symptoms for a few days.
Blood is drawn from your arm using a sterile needle and passes through a machine that separates the blood cells. The remaining blood returns to your other arm.
What are your current projects or points of focus?
The following patients are still searching for a match and we are working to help them:
In addition, we are working on spreading the message in the South Asian Community. We just created a Public Service Announcement on the need for South Asians to register. Check it out.
We are always trying to get more people involved with setting up drives and spreading the word. We rely so much on South Asian volunteers and can always use more. There are so many ways to get involved.
I’m also working on putting together a fundraiser for the organization Yuvsatta. They educate the community on health and hygiene, HIV AIDS, have a school for slum children, literacy project for women, and a vocational training program for women. Yuvsatta is based in Chandigarh. Please contact me if you would like to help them or be involved in the fundraiser.
Why did you transition from the corporate world to the non-profit world?
I would ask myself almost daily: what is point of my life? Am I really making a difference? I struggled with this for years in the corporate field. In December of 2005, a trip to India changed me forever. I went with a service group, Be The Cause, that I volunteer with.
We went to work with Manav Sadhna, an NGO based at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. They work to uplift the poor using simple means. Thirty-eight projects involve more than 4,500 women and children. They also support over 4,000 individuals through their health care and educational projects. We taught basic hygiene, provided nutritious meals, and played with children.
Another project we were involved with was the “Earn n’ Learn” project. Children often must work on the street doing jobs such as shoe shinning and trash picking. This project teaches children how to make paper products and sell them while working within a budget. I was able to see how a dedicated organization run by truly caring people was able to affect so many using a micro-economic approach. I learned the importance of the Gandhian principle of helping those that are the most disadvantaged.
When I returned home, I felt motivated to work for a non-profit. I had worked previously as a corporate human resource manager. Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches allows me to make a difference by registering people to save the lives of South Asian patients.
Best way to stay ahead
Be honest with yourself and others. I feel that I’m giving people the opportunity to save lives. Make people realize that they have an opportunity to do something that will outlast them. This registry is for all of us. If I ever need a donor, I know this registry will help me.
Guiding principle in life
Do what makes you happy and feels right. I took a 50 percent pay cut for this job, but I’m still completely selfish. I do this job because it makes me feel good!
Yardstick of success
Recently we were working with the family and friends of Vinay, as well as volunteers. Vinay is 29 years old and was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML). He is currently living in Boston with Rashmi, his wife of 3 years. They have lived in Boston since the wedding, where Vinay is a resident in orthopedics at Boston Medical Center. Vinay is known amongst his family and friends as being a kind, honest and a loving human being. There was a huge campaign for the need for South Asians to register via his website.
The campaign also included another patient Sameer who was also searching for a match. Sameer was also diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. Sameer is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, is 31 years old and just got married in 2006. What is amazing is they both got matches! From June till about end of August over 24, 000 people registered from the Vinay campaign and over 4, 000 of those were from Southern California. It is so unbelievable to see the whole entire South Asian community come together to save lives. Getting all these people to register was really the work of so many.
Sukh Chugh from Be the Cause is definitely my mentor. He has taught me one important lesson: by giving we are really receiving. I learned about this position through him. He met me when I was feeling very discontent at my corporate job. He showed me that it didn’t have to be that way and I didn’t have to follow the materialistic path that many take. To truly live is to be true to yourself. I should fight for each person’s life as though I were fighting for my own.
What keeps you motivated?
I remember calling her one day and telling her I couldn’t visit because I had a cold. She was so caring towards me. She asked me if I was taking care of myself. She probably was experiencing pain equivalent to third degree burns but she was just so considerate. Unfortunately, Sai passed away, yet the memory of her kindness still lives on. I will remember her always. My friend Biba kept me motivated during this whole process by being there for Sai. Biba thought it would be great to take Sai to Disneyland, and we all agreed it was one of the best days ever!
Like best about what you do?
I like being there for our community and helping to save the lives of South Asian patients.
Like least about what you do?
Sometimes people don’t want to register. Seeing this unwillingness to take such a small step to save someone’s life can be hard to accept.
At age 10, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Oh my gosh! I think I wanted to a princess or something. I sure don’t want to be that anymore. It’s interesting. This week I met a real princess Urmi. She is six years old and has Aplastic Anemia. She is still waiting for a match.
What was your first job?
Working at the Queen Mary as a tour guide! It was great. I liked giving the ghost tours.
Biggest pastime outside of work
Traveling. I love it. I have been to Italy, England, Spain, France, India, Peru, and Ecuador!
Person most interested in meeting?
Eckhart Tolle, author of the book “The Power of Now.” He talks about living in the now. He said something simple yet so profound, even thinking of the past or present is in the now. It is so important to live in the present moment because that’s when you are truly alive. He also discusses how we can learn to be more present by watching and observing our thoughts. Often we are thinking of things, which take us away from the present.
Three interesting facts about yourself
- Lived in England
- Mom is a singer
Three characteristics that describe you
- Always on the go
Three greatest passions
“Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.
Who would you like to be contacted by?
Anyone who is serving others. Anyone ready to register to be a marrow donor. To register in Southern California, they can visit our website www.asianmarrow.org. For all other locations, they can visit www.marrow.org.
Interview by Saba Nasser
Introduction by Preeti Aroon
Edited by Valerie Enriquez
|October 3rd, 2007, 16:42:43||permalink|
Kristeen, it is awesome what you do and how you have transformed yourself for the good of others. Not everyone can take those moments of inspiration and translate them into something tangible as you have. Not everyone can sacrifice a part of their own lives for the sake of others. It is inspiring to know you and an honor to be your brother.
|October 3rd, 2007, 20:56:31||permalink|
Kristeen you are definitely one amazing soul and I am blessed to journey this life with you. You, Manuri, Sukh, Sai, my family and all my children are my inspiration each day. I will always be grateful for A3M, You, Venkit, and especially God for bringing Sai into my life. “Be the Change You Wish To See In The World” stems from the core of your heart and soul and because of it, I say, Thank you for your connection, thank you for your existence, thank you for your choices, and thank you for your love. God bless. And much success to you always!
|October 4th, 2007, 03:10:42||permalink|
Kristeen, it is inspiring to read about your journey. Your commitment with yourself to be a more authentic, loving and compassionate human being resonates in your words. It is a blessing to live in a world where such caring people like you exist. Wishing you the ‘power of now’ on every path you tread.