Photo Caption: API Blood Drive founder Ed Wong (foreground) and longtime supporter Herb Tsuchiya (background) make a regular practice of donating blood. Wong recommends that people donate every six months to broaden the pool of blood donors and increase the likelihood of a blood match for those who need it. Photo courtesy of Kin On Community Health Care.

Kirby Wong only needed 540 units of blood to live, but because a perfect blood match was not found in time, his heart operation to replace a heart valve failed.
Nearly 13 years after Kirby’s death, his father, Ed Wong, is calling on all Asian and Pacific Islanders (APIs) to do their part in this year’s API Blood Drive & Bone Marrow event on Feb. 16. Hosted by Kin On Community Health Care and Puget Sound Blood Center (PSBC), the drive will be held in the Chinese Baptist Church on Beacon Hill.

At the age of 45, Wong, of Chinese descent, passed away in Seattle because nearly all of the donated blood he received was from Caucasians. A perfect blood match is best found within one’s own ethnic group, but because Asian Americans have historically low rates of donating, there was nothing the doctors could do for Wong.

“Antigens are inherited and a perfect match is best found within one’s own ethnic and racial group,” said Krista Fink, donor resources representative from Puget Sound Blood Center. “A perfect match is often required for patients with sickle cell disease, thalassemia and any condition that requires multiple transfusions of blood.”

According to Ed Wong, only one in 10 Asian Americans donate blood, in comparison to about four out of 10 eligible Caucasians who donate. Since his son’s death in 2000, he has worked tirelessly to bridge this disparity by hosting the biannual drive along with longtime supporter Herb Tsuchiya, Chinese Baptist Church, Blaine Memorial Methodist  Church and Kin On.

According to the PSBC, each unit of blood — approximately 450 milliliters — can help save up to three lives. Donated blood is usually given to someone in need in a matter of days or weeks.

Kirby Wong on his wedding day. Photo courtesy of Ed Wong.
Kirby Wong on his wedding day. Photo courtesy of Ed Wong.

“Over the years, we’ve registered 1,132 donors at the API drives and collected 918 units of blood. That’s a total of up to 2,754 lives saved,” said Fink.

While many of the donors are repeat donors that show up every six months the drive is held, Ed Wong added that a significant problem faced is that people only donate one time.

“People think that’s enough, but we strive to have people donate once every six months,” said Ed Wong.

According to PSBC, every two seconds, someone in Western Washington needs a blood transfusion. One in seven people entering the hospital need blood. The need for blood for cancer patients, car accident victims and a host of other conditions is always urgent.

“With more and more interracial and inter-ethnic marriages, it becomes increasingly more complicated to keep a steady supply of blood that can be perfectly matched, especially among ethnic groups where donating blood to create the supply in the first place is not encouraged or accepted as a common practice,” said Fink.

In past years, the blood drive has had mainly middle-aged to elderly adults participating; this year, they hope to reach out to the younger professional groups.

Jessica Wong, Kin On’s fund development and communications associate, said that there is a cultural barrier present in some older Asian Americans who misunderstand the practice of blood-donating. She said there are a lot of myths present in some of the older generation who think donating blood might have an adverse effect on health. Ed Wong agreed that “it requires a lot of education to reverse the old-wives tales.”

For instance, some Asian Americans avoid donating blood because their parents don’t want them to or they think they might need the blood themselves, said Ed Wong. However, with proper hydration, the body can replace the donated blood volume in 24 hours.

Donors must be 18 or older or have parental consent. They should also be of good health and weight at least 110 pounds. A questionnaire is given before the blood is donated to determine eligibility. The entire process takes less than an hour.

Fink encourages everyone to do their share: “We need the diversity in our blood supply to ensure all different kinds of blood are available to reflect the diversity of people we have in our community.”

*This year’s drive is supported by Kin On and Puget Sound Blood Center, with support from Chinese Baptist Church, Blaine Memorial United Methodist Church, Seattle chapter of the National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP), Seattle chapter of the Taiwanese American Professionals Society (TAPS), Boeing Asian American Professionals Association (BAAPA) and the Executive Development Institute (EDI).

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