Charlie’s Law could save lives of those with blood cancer

I was alone with my doctor in the hospital when she told me I had no bone marrow matches in the world. I cried a lot that day. I was admitted two weeks prior, after relapsing from acute myeloid leukemia, an aggressive blood cancer. As a husband, father and criminal prosecutor, I’ve dedicated my life to caring for my loved ones and protecting my community. Now, leukemia was threatening my life, and there was no one who could protect me from it.

Throughout COVID-19, I willingly endured isolation and brutal side effects of chemotherapy in hopes of receiving a bone marrow transplant to stay alive a little longer for my family. Without a match, all my sacrifices felt in vain. No transplant meant the cancer would return shortly after the chemotherapy treatments ended. I was haunted by thoughts of leaving my wife alone to raise my three wonderful daughters.

Thankfully, my brother, who was initially disqualified from being my donor as a cancer survivor himself, was ultimately allowed to be my match. Ten months post-transplant, I am slowly regaining my strength, with hopes of living a normal and cancer-free life. Every day I am grateful to wake up to my family. Every day I am grateful that my brother allowed me this time.

According to Be The Match, each year 18,000 Americans are diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers and other diseases that can only be cured with a bone marrow transplant. Seven out of 10 are unable to find a relative, meaning they must find an unrelated donor. Since patients are matched genetically, most are likely to have a donor(s) of a similar ethnic background. Minority patients have a much smaller chance of finding a matching donor than Caucasians. Per Be the Match, Caucasians have a 79% chance of finding a match — as opposed to 48% for Hispanics, 47% for Asians and 29% for Blacks.

As an Asian American, I saw firsthand how difficult it was to find a match. Determined to find a solution to help all patients, especially patients from minority communities, I sat in my hospital bed and drafted a state bill that was later named “Charlie’s Law.”

Assemblyman Evan Low’s AB 1800 would allow 18- to 40-year-old Californians applying for or renewing their California driver’s license or identification card to be a bone marrow donor by checking a box, much like organ donation. Be The Match will then mail a kit to the donor’s home. The donor will swab the inside of their cheek and mail the kit back to Be The Match where their genetic information will be stored in a secure national database that can be accessed by cancer doctors when they need to find a match for their patients. Using the California Department of Motor Vehicles’ registration process would significantly increase the reach for all potential donors.

Given California’s ethnic and genetic diversity, donors gained through this bill would help patients not only in California but across the country — especially those in minority communities.

Once a match is identified, the donor could accept or decline to participate — without any financial or legal obligations. If the match chooses to participate, medical advances in harvesting the donor stem cells for transplant no longer requires anesthesia or a spinal tap. Instead, it can be done by collecting the donor’s peripheral blood while he or she watches TV for a few hours.

Charlie’s Law will ensure that no patient waiting for a bone marrow transplant will hear that they have no options. Please urge your legislators to support this bill, which is supported by Be the Match, the California Catholic Conference, City of Hope, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Stanford Health Care and other organizations. Patients’ lives depend on it.

Charlie Huang is a Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney who received a bone marrow transplant in 2021.

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles