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The Race to Save Lives

September 26, 2019  |  Posted by ABIM  |  Celebrating Physicians

Some of us may like to use the summer to kick back and relax, go to the beach or spend time with friends and family. ABIM Board Certified physician Lam Do, MD entered a grueling 3,000-mile race to save lives.

In 2001, Dr. Lam Do’s 18-month old son, Luke, was diagnosed with leukemia. Hope lay in a marrow transplant, but like 70% of people, Luke needed a donor outside his family. They turned to Be The Match—the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world. Because Luke is multiracial, his chances of finding one were slim. Even the most diverse marrow registry isn’t as diverse as the populations in need, and some ethnicities have as little as a 1 in 5 chance of finding a donor. Though the odds were stacked against him, Luke was one of the lucky patients who found a match, and a successful transplant took place four days before his second birthday. Luke recently celebrated his 19th birthday.

Seattle Police Department’s Randy Yamanaka with Dr. Do’s son Luke in 2006. Mr. Yamanaka saved Luke’s life through a bone marrow donation. (Photo provided by Seattle PD).

Dr. Do, drew on his family’s experience to form Team SuperMarrow and endure the intensive training and challenges of the Race Across America (RAAM). Billed as “The World’s Toughest Bicycle Race,” it crosses 3,070 miles and climbs a total of 175,000 feet — Dr. Do took many of the uphill stretches in the relay.  

“My son was dying. That pain was greater than me going up a mountain,” said Dr. Do. “That put it into perspective for me.” 

The RAAM has become a platform for teams to raise awareness and money for charities of their choice. During RAAM, which kicked off from Oceanside, California on June 15 and ended in Annapolis, Maryland on June 23 this year, a cyclist from the 8-person team must be riding at all times, 24 hours a day. A support crew follows in a van and RV. Once the clock starts it does not stop until cyclists cross the finish line.

Each rider adopted a superhero character name and theme: Dr. Do rides as Captain A’marrow’ca, and others included the likes of Wonder Woman, Deadpool, Daredevil and Ironman.

Team SuperMarrow’s cause is to help diversify the national stem cell registry and to increase umbilical cord blood donations from multi-ethnic and multi-cultural communities and donor registries worldwide. The team selected the Asian American Donor Program (AADP) as its charity of choice.

“As physicians,” added Dr. Do, whose wife Sarah Gaskins is a practicing neurologist, “neither of us were prepared, trained or knew of this disparity in health care. We have had many miracles in this journey and our son is alive and thriving today after a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor, now our hero. I am humbled by our experience. Only when it hit home did I realize that there is an under-representation of ethnic minorities in our national stem cell registry.”

Dr. Lam Do, Captain of Team SuperMarrow, riding in the Race Across America to promote awareness of the need for bone marrow donors. (Photo courtesy of VieTV, Tuong Minh)

The team includes two other Kaiser Permanente physicians  — Dr. Matthew Lux (Superhero Dead Pool), a urologist based in San Diego who was one of the cyclists, and Dr. Patricia Chu, a doctor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Kaiser Permanente Oceanside, who served as a driver. The rest of the team and crew included experienced endurance cyclists.

To continue to promote awareness of the need for bone marrow donors, Dr. Do will be competing in upcoming races with fellow Team SuperMarrow members and the team will also don their superhero costumes to visit pediatric patients in hospitals. 

To learn more about Team SuperMarrow or how to register to be a bone marrow donor, visit their website.

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