The Gift Of Life Through Marrow

In 1996 Scott Kikiloi was among the more than 30,000 people (including myself) who joined the National Marrow Donor Program through the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry in hopes of being a match for a little girl named Alana Dung, who was battling leukemia.

He was not a match for her, but 13 years later, he became a match for 44-year-old Tami Schwartz, a mother of two young children in Spokane, Wash., who was diagnosed with myelodysplasia and in need of a stem cell transplant.

About 10 years ago, donating blood stem cells (which are found in your bone marrow) became another method of collecting the cells needed for a transplant.

After much thought, Kikiloi agreed to the donation, and in June 2009, Schwartz received the transplant. Last year, the two spoke to each other by phone for the first time and have since been in touch through email and Skype. On Nov. 20, they will meet in person at the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry’s Thanks for Giving Hair and Fashion Show Luncheon at the Hawaii Prince Hotel.

“I consider myself very lucky because there are a lot of people who are still looking (for a match),” says Schwartz, who has an aunt and uncle living in Aiea, and cousins in Honolulu. “I don’t know how to thank him, he saved my life. I’m just so happy I get to meet him. I consider him part of my family now.”

Kikiloi, 36, says he has no regrets on becoming a donor, but admits it was not an easy choice at first. He just needed a better understanding of the process. He also had a lot going on at the time with a “pretty demanding” job at Kamehameha Schools as cultural assets manager, and working on his Ph.D in archaeology at the University of Hawaii.

There also was a trip he was planning to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands for his dissertation on two of the islands there, which was not easy to coordinate. “I would be on these islands in the middle of the ocean for about a month to survey the site and get samples,” explains Kikiloi, who grew up in Kaneohe and lives in Manoa. “It’s really rugged, difficult islands to live on (about 300 miles away), so I needed to be in good health. If there was an accident or if you needed medical attention your life could be at risk.

“But for me, I tend to help people. I thought about it, and if I was the only match, I’m not going to leave someone hanging like that. It just came down to that it was something I felt I should do, and I ended up doing the donation a few weeks before the trip.”

According to Roy Yonashiro, recruitment specialist at the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry, there’s an average of 25 people in Hawaii actively searching for a donor, and you might just be the one they need. Bone marrow donors are often needed for patients with leukemia, aplastic anemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other fatal blood diseases. What makes a person a match is not their blood type but their blood tissue type.

“I’d like to encourage people to join the registry,” says Kikiloi. “(For me) it was definitely worthwhile. Being able to save someone’s life is an honor and a privilege.”

The next bone marrow donor registry drive is scheduled for Nov. 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kapiolani Community College (Ohia Cafeteria). The Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry is an affiliate of the National Marrow Donor Program. Joining the registry is easy. Patients need donors who are between the ages of 18 and 60, meet the health guidelines and are willing to donate to any patient in need.

To join, you just need to complete a registration form and give either a swab of cheek cells or a blood sample. For more information, visit or call 547-6154.