Valerie Sun ’13: saving lives through bone marrow transplants

We all matter. We all make a difference. Valerie Sun’s story makes this point as well as any.

Valerie Sun, ’13, Director, Regional IPA Operations at HealthCare Partners, and a John Wooden Fellowship Recipient in 2011, was diagnosed with a life threatening blood disease called aplastic anemia as a child. She spent seven years living on blood and platelet transfusions, waiting and hoping for a life-saving marrow match. At the age of 17, Valerie received a bone marrow transplant courtesy of a generous stranger in Michigan.

20140327 Valerie Sun 13 and Julie

Valerie Sun ’13, and Julie, her bone marrow donor.

Almost 15 years later, Valerie has experienced many challenges and setbacks since the transplant, but is happy and thriving in her new career in healthcare as Director, Regional Operations for HealthCare Partners IPAs (Independent Physician Associations) in Orange County, CA.

20140327 Iman Movahed EMBA 2010 and Granaz Ziaghazvini FEMBA 2013 bone marrow drive

It’s easy! Iman Movahed EMBA 2010 and Granaz Ziaghazvini FEMBA 2013, at Valerie’s Bone Marrow Drive. Iman and Granaz also happen to be engaged, but that is a story for another day.

Valerie’s passion for helping patients who need marrow transplants has only grown over the years. She serves on the Patient Services Advisory Group for the National Marrow Donor Program and strives to tap into all networks and resources available to improve her ability to support these causes. In her last year of FEMBA and with the help of fellow FEMBAs, faculty, and alumni, she organized a bone marrow registration drive at UCLA Anderson.

20140327 Brian Sterz 14 and Brandon Flora 14 bone marrow-2

Brian Sterz ’14 and Brandon Flora ’14. In Entrepreneur’s Hall, swabbing for the Bone Marrow Drive.

With any drive, the goal is to register eligible healthy donors between the ages of 18 and 44. Adding potential donors to the Be The Match registry increases the odds of patients finding a life-saving match. Valerie’s friend, Krissy Kobata, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome in 2008 and is still searching for her perfect match. The 2013 drive at Anderson had a huge turnout, registering over 80 students and faculty in person, and another 20 online. Over the 2013 summer, Valerie hosted another drive at FEMBAPalooza and had another 30 people register.

July 14, 2013Fembapalooza-76-2 - Copy

The Bone Marrow Drive at FEMBApalooza 2, summer 2013, garnered another 30 potential matches.

 

20140429 Valerie Sun and Sabha Tafazoli 09 at FEMBApalooza 2

Valerie and Sabha Tafazoli 09 at FEMBApalooza 2 and the Bone Marrow Drive

20140327 May Huang 15

Passing the torch. May Huang ’15 has taken up keeping the Bone Marrow Drive going at UCLA Anderson. Thanks May!

After the drive last year, Valerie asked for help to continue this drive on a yearly basis at Anderson. May Huang, ’15, Financial Analyst at Paramount Farms, graciously stepped up to the task and has been a superstar – organizing the drive that is occurring on Sat, April 5th 2014, on Alumni Plaza.

I asked May to tell me about her motivation and she wrote me:

Hi Dylan,

So here’s a quick summary on why raising awareness and getting people to register is important to me. Cancer runs in my family. My maternal grandfather passed away when he was 30, so my mother grew up without a father. My grandfather passed away when my mom was only a year old. My mother’s oldest sister passed away at 49 after battling thyroid cancer for over 20 years. My maternal grandmother passed away from uterine cancer. 

In addition, one of my best friends (who was also my college roommate) was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Disease four months after graduating from college. She was only 22 at the time. After battling cancer for three straight years and experimenting with every type of treatment, her doctors told her she had two years left to live. She is now in remission (after four and a half years of battling the disease). Her five year remission anniversary is this coming July. Another one of my really good high school friends was recently diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Disease. (What is up my friends and Hodgkin’s Disease??) He is currently going through chemotherapy and is having a very difficult time dealing with the illness and the side effects of treatment. To date, I’ve had FOUR close friends who have been hit with cancer. Thankfully, three out of the four are in remission.

Cancer is prevalent in my family and social circle. For this reason, I feel the need to get as many people registered as possible as I am dedicated to saving as many lives as possible. 

Thank you again for blogging about our Bone Marrow Drive efforts.

See you Saturday.

May

Thank you Valerie. Thank you May.  You are making a difference.

How You Can Help

  • Stop by Alumni Plaza (all are welcome!) from 11-2 on Sat, April 5th 2014, to register. It only takes 10 minutes and consists of filling out some paperwork and providing a cheek swab sample.
  • Register online by going to www.marrow.org  and sending away for a registration kit.
  • Get educated! Chances of ever getting called for a match are very slim, but donation is not as scary as most people think. In fact, 70% of the time marrow is donated in a process similar to donating platelets. Read all about it: http://bethematch.org/
  • Spread the word! Here is the Facebook event page

Daily Bruin article on Valerie Sun

Valerie Sun in her own words: 8 Lessons on Bringing Survivorship to the Workplace Blogpost

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