Esther Kang

Manhattan Beach woman fights against odds with cross-country support

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Nina Polvanich Louie, 32, has been searching for a bone marrow donor match since June. Courtesy of savenina.com.

Nina Polvanich Louie, 32, has been searching for a bone marrow donor match since June. Courtesy of savenina.com.

Nina Polvanich Louie’s exciting life as a new mother in Manhattan Beach came to a halt last September when doctors diagnosed her with Stage IV diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, an aggressive form of blood cancer.

By January, Louie, 32, had endured seven rounds of chemotherapy at UCLA, but after just two months of remission, she learned that the cancer had spread to her brain.

“I couldn’t even cry,” the Stanford alum told the L.A. Times. Doctors believed her best option in the long-term would be a bone marrow transplant before the end of August, so Louie’s family and friends began organizing.

Since the “Save Nina” campaign launched in June, Louie and her support team have hosted nearly 200 drives across the country and abroad. They have typed more than 7,500 people and are awaiting the return of some 4,000 home typing kits. None so far have been a match for Louie, who doctors say has a 1-in-20,000 chance of finding one. As a person of Asian decent (her family hails from Thailand) her likelihood of finding a match on the national registry is 20 percent lower than that of a Caucasian patient, according to the National Marrow Donor Program.

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Louie with her husband and son. Courtesy of savenina.com

Louie, who moved to Manhattan Beach with her husband in 2010 and gave birth to her son Donovan later that year, is just fresh out of the hospital again after a bout with pneumonia. Shen Li Khong, a close friend spearheading the campaign, spoke with Easy Reader on her behalf. She said they remain hopeful that Louie will beat the odds, though she concedes that the search is “a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“Every single person who gets typed is potentially a second chance at life for Nina or someone else,” Khong said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think those of us who love her will ever stop hoping for the best case scenario for her and her family – it is what has kept us going throughout this whole process.”

August 3 is currently the latest listed drive, but the “Save Nina” drive will continue efforts throughout the month – or until Louie’s scans show she is free of cancer cells. The overriding hope is for a transplant in August, but “this is a bit of a moving target,” Khong said, not only due to the difficult prospects of finding a match but also the unpredictability of Louie’s ongoing response to chemotherapy. She is undergoing her 14th round.

Khong said the outpouring of support for the “Save Nina” campaign (Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and actress Kristen Bell are among a handful of celebrity supporters) has inspired the team and Louie herself to raise awareness about the issue, not just on Louie’s behalf but also on behalf of the 12,000 others in the country waiting for a transplant.

“It would be a shame to let this momentum go,” she said. “…It is such a simple thing the average person can do, but also one of the greatest gifts they could ever give in their lives.”