For Mika Yoshino, a Kaiser Permanente Digital Experience Center team director, a passion for helping others extends beyond her career. In her spare time, Youshino is making a difference with “Will You Marrow Me?” — a program she launched in October 2015 to encourage Kaiser Permanente’s diverse employee workforce to register as bone marrow donors.
“Every four minutes someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukemia or lymphoma, and 70 percent of these patients don’t have a matching marrow donor in their family,” she explained. “Right now, there are over 12,000 patients waiting for a match.”
One of those patients was 33-year-old Kaiser Permanente Southern California employee Aaron Lee, a senior consultant in Health Innovation. Last summer, he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of lymphoma that is now resistant to first-line chemotherapy. With time running out, Aaron needed a matching marrow donor to save his life.
The day after Aaron learned that he would need a marrow transplant, he read about Mika’s “Will You Marrow Me?” program. In a phone interview from his hospital room in Los Angeles, Aaron said, “It felt like fate.”
“Whether or not I’m able to get my match, it’s still meaningful to help others find theirs,” he said. “I hope my story helps other employees understand that they can do something very simple to save a life.”
As a longtime Kaiser Permanente employee, Mika knew the organization prides itself on its diverse workforce. It has more than 190,000 employees across the country, with more than 122,000 of them from racial and ethnic groups that are underrepresented in the national bone marrow donor registry.
She launched “Will You Marrow Me?” after being selected to present her idea at an innovation conference for Kaiser Permanente Marketing, Sales, Service, and Administration teams.
“I knew that many KP employees would want to be a part of this work and help make a difference in the lives of those in need,” she said.
Since that conference, Mika has partnered with the Asian American Donor Program and has held eight bone marrow donor registration drives in California and Colorado that have prompted 125 employees to register as possible donors.
After being on a waiting list for more than a year while getting progressively weaker, Aaron received a successful bone marrow transplant and is now on the road to health. But Mika knows thousands of others, like Aaron, are still waiting, and she continues to fight to make a change. With fellow Kaiser Permanente employees by her side, Mika works to help others find a bone marrow match.
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