Marrow drive targets USC’s int’l students

USC’s international population, the largest of any university in the United States, has given the school a unique opportunity — the chance to save a life.

Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches, a branch of National Marrow Donor Program, is launching an on-campus drive Thursday to find a potentially life-saving match for Sonia Rai, a 24-year-old Los Angeles native and current Boston resident who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia during the holiday season. The four-hour drive will be held on Trousdale Parkway starting at 10 a.m.

Kanika Jain, a first-year graduate student at USC and one of the drive’s organizers, said Asians for Miracle Marrow Matches chose USC because of the university’s large number of international and South Asian students.

According to The New York Times, USC had 7,987 international students last year, more than any other university in the United States.

“I said to myself ‘Hey, I work and study at USC and there are South Asians everywhere; let’s do a drive here,’” said Elizabeth Jordan, a USC graduate student and a career counselor in the Career Planning & Placement Center.

Jordan said she was moved by Rai’s story and contacted Rai’s brother in Boston to help organize a drive at USC. Jordan previously organized bone marrow drives in 2009 and 2010, both of which produced life-saving matches.

“I truly believe we will find a match for Sonia and she’s going to be okay,” Jordan said. “We’ve got too much inspiration and momentum to fail.”

The drive will ask USC students to sign up for the Be the Match Registry, a commitment to donate blood marrow to a person in need. More than eight million people have already signed up for the registry.

“It is a great idea to have the drive at USC,” said Esther Lee, associate director of the Office of International Services. “USC stands out above the rest because of its international students and a lot of the students come here to get a great education, but here is a rare opportunity to save a life.”

Jordan said it will take approximately 10 minutes for students to register and take a DNA test. She also encourages students who cannot attend the drive in person to sign up at to learn more about the process of bone marrow transplants.

“It’s so fast and easy; just one form and four cheek swabs and you’re done,” Jordan said.

According to a 2007 report by CBS Boston, 1.8 percent of the registry’s eight million members are South Asian.

“There are so many South Asians at USC but so few in the Be the Match Registry,” Jain said. “Sonia needs more South Asians in the registry to find a match.”

Although Rai is searching for a South Asian donor, the organizers of the event encourage all USC students to join the Be the Match Registry.

“Our mission is not just to cure Sonia but to help find donors for other patients in dire need,” said Kamini Rai Cormier, Rai’s cousin.

Rai’s supporters launched the Cure Sonia Campaign via social media and networking, and have held more than 100 drives across the country during the course of a month. Events have been held in Philadelphia, Chicago, Austin, San Francisco and Los Angeles.