When Amit Gupta, founder of photo community site Photojojo, was diagnosed with acute leukemia, he did what any good tech entrepreneur would do: he turned to social media.
Gupta needs bone marrow, but, unfortunately, South Asians are underrepresented in the bone marrow pool. Most people have an 80% chance of finding a donor; if you’re South Asian, that number drops to 1 in 20,000. Thus the birth of Amit Gupta Needs You, which aims to utilize Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook to get people (especially of South Asian descent) to send in cheek swabs and organize donor registry drives.
The result has been pretty amazing—there have been at least 50 donor drives so far, located everywhere from New York City to India, with each resulting in 40-150 cheek swabs. As of today, there are 25 days left for the registry to find a match, so you should definitely order a free test kit by mail or attend one of the many donor drives all across the country if you haven’t already.
“This all started with friends who took it upon themselves to run drives first in NYC and then in the Bay Area, but it’s spread so far and so fast—it’s hard to believe,” he wrote to Techland in an email while flying from Seattle to Newark. “I’ve gone through some tough spots in the last few weeks, and seeing people all over the world tweeting, facebooking, tumblr’ing every day about swabbing, or attending or organizing drives has been really encouraging.”
At first, it was hard for Gupta to reach out. “I don’t like to ask for help, and though I’m very social—something about asking for help with this felt too personal and too selfish,” he wrote. “I guess I learned that it’s okay to ask for help (especially if you really have no other option). It helped me to be able to frame it as something that wasn’t just about me—but was about increasing the odds and helping everyone of South Asian descent.”
While donating bone marrow in the past required surgery, today the procedure is non-surgical, with only minor potential side effects like headaches, joint or muscle aches, and fatigue, which usually go away in one or two days, according to the National Marrow Donor Program. Swabbing your cheek and mailing it off is painless, of course.
Gupta says he hopes that others can gain something from this campaign. “I honestly don’t know if we’re going to find a perfect match for me—though of course I really hope we do—but I’m heartened by the fact that every swab and every registration we’re able to drive has the potential to help someone with leukemia in the future.”
“So we’re helping others fighting the same disease now, and I certainly hope people with other diseases who see this and find themselves in a similar position can take something from what’s happened here to help them reach more people and better their chances. That’d be really rad.”