When Sam Kimura learned she had a life-threatening blood disorder at age 17, the diagnosis shook up her life. The condition, severe aplastic anemia, can be treated with a bone marrow transplant, but there was just one problem: No one on the National Bone Marrow Registry was a match for Sam.
Six years later, Sam and her older sister Alex Kimura and their friend Taylor Shorten decided to sell their cars, buy a van, and embark on a cross-country road trip to recruit people to join the registry and try to find a donor for Sam.
Since January, the trio, who are from Kentucky, have been making their way across all 50 states and are blogging about the mission for their nonprofit, S.A.M— for “Sharing America’s Marrow”— on their website. On Halloween, the Kimura sisters stopped in Oklahoma to swab students’ cheeks to test for bone marrow types at the University of Oklahoma. They plan to make 191 stops by the end of their trip, visiting breweries, colleges and concerts, with the aim of registering 50,000 new donors total, according to Fox 59. So far, they’ve registered over 13,000 people for the donor registry, according to a post on their Instagram page.
Sam is reportedly in remission from her condition, which occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough new blood cells, due to 20 pills she takes daily to manage it. But the sisters say they have maintained their mission because other people in need of a transplant may not have that option.
According to the Mayo Clinic, severe aplastic anemia can cause fatigue, and leave affected individuals at a higher risk of uncontrolled bleeding and infections.
In Sam’s case, Alex, who is two years older, tried to donate her bone marrow to Sam because siblings have about a 25 percent chance of being a match, but Alex turned out to not be a match for her sister. Fox59.com reported that about 70 percent of people who need bone marrow transplants do not have matches within their family.