‘Helping Janet’ uses social media to save a life

When UCLA student Janet Liang was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in 2009, she, her family and the doctors were the only people who knew about it.

According to the National Marrow Donor Program, ALL is a cancer of the white blood cells. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cell used by the body to fight infections, and bone marrow makes blasts – uniformed cells – that usually develop into these lymphocytes. However, the disease inhibits the development of normal blasts and, thus, the combat of infections.

After a year and a half in remission and a tragic relapse in 2011, Liang decided to tell others about her situation. While still in the hospital, Liang filmed and uploaded  a video recording her plea for help to YouTube.

“I am scared of dying because of everything that I will leave behind,” Liang said in the video. “I don’t know if I’ll ever find my bone marrow match in time.”

The video went viral. Now, people all around the world know about Janet Liang, her disease and her desperate need for a perfectly matched bone marrow donation.

A campaign called Helping Janet was launched to help Liang find usable bone marrow. Although over 22,000 people have registered as donors, none of them are a perfect match. The “Helping Janet” website states that the deadline for Liang to receive a bone marrow donation is this month.

Liang, who graduated from UCLA with a degree in international development and has a passion for reading and writing, dedicated the campaign in memory of Michelle Maykin, who suffered from the same disease as Liang and initiated a grassroots campaign for her own perfect match.

People from all over the world have gotten involved, including UC Davis students Vincent Trinh and Alyssa Ng. Trinh, a senior English major, stumbled upon Liang’s plea for help on a social media website.

“We are both UC students, we’re both from the Bay Area, we’re both Asian Americans and we’re both activists within in our community,” Trinh said regarding his initial interest in Helping Janet. “Someone as sweet, talented and kind as her should not have to go through this.”

Trinh’s first act of involvement was coordinating a bone marrow drive at UC Davis. He teamed up with many Asian American organizations such as Lambda Fraternity and the Asian American Donor Program. They used many social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to optimize the movement on campus. Trinh helped to register nearly 200 people within the course of two days.

Ng, a senior managerial economics major who has also aided such bone marrow drives, said that the complexity of the situation lies in the fact that Liang needs bone marrow from a person of a similar race.

According to Ng, Liang is having a hard time finding a match because Asian Americans make up only 7 percent of the entire bone marrow registry.

“In order for someone like Janet to find a perfect bone marrow match, her donor must be Chinese,” Trinh said. “Considering how diverse our Asian American community is and that we make up only 7 percent of the total registry, her chances are very slim.”

Liang has won several awards for her plight and perseverance, including the Spirit of Hope Award from Asian Miracle Marrow Matches, the Unsung Hero Award for 2012 from Asian Pacific Americans for Progress and the Juanita Haugen Community of Character Award for 2012.

Trinh and Ng both consider Liang to be a very talented writer and actively read her personal blog at janetgliang.com.

Helping Janet is uniquely linked to many forms of social media. The campaign has a blog, helpingjanet.tumblr.com; a website, helpingjanet.com; and a Facebook page, facebook.com/helpingjanet.

Registering to become a donor can be done online. Asian Americans and those of Chinese descent are especially encouraged to do so.

SARA ISLAS can be reached at city@theaggie.org.

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