Photo: Samaruddin Stewart
When Lateefah Simon's husband, Kevin Weston, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive type of leukemia last year, she learned that his best chance for survival hinged on a bone marrow transplant that would replenish his body with new, healthy blood stem cells. Yet finding the right match can be tricky: The ideal donors are often people with an ethnic background similar to the recipient's, but Weston's half-siblings were less-than-optimal matches, and African Americans account for just 7 percent of donors in the National Marrow Donor Program's registry (bethematch.org). Miraculously, two matches did turn up, but as luck would have it, neither donor was available for a transplant.
Simon knew she had to do something to help save Kevin and others like him. (It wasn't the first time in her life she'd faced a daunting challenge. She'd worked her way out of poverty in San Francisco to run a nonprofit for at-risk young women, earning a MacArthur "genius" fellowship at the age of 26—and landing on O's Power List in 2009.) Since January she has organized 27 drives with the help of friends, registering roughly 1,600 potential donors, 91 percent of whom are black. (Joining is as easy as swabbing your mouth for DNA.) Though a match still hasn't materialized for Weston, doctors are now planning to use stem cells from donated umbilical cord blood, which can work as well as those from a full bone marrow match. But that hasn't stopped Simon's campaign—so far, three donors who signed up have been matched to people in need of transplants. Says Simon, "If someone you don't know can save your life, that's truly an amazing gift."
More People Making a Difference
From the September 2013 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!