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Each day, more than 6,000 men, women and children search the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) Registry for a life-saving donor like you. These patients have leukemia, lymphoma and other blood cancers that can be treated by a bone marrow or cord blood transplant. For many of these patients, a transplant may be the best and only hope of a cure.

Because tissue types are inherited, patients are more likely to match someone from their own race or ethnicity. South Asians, unfortunately, make up less than 2% of donors on the National Marrow Donor Registry. Nearly 75% of South Asians that require a bone marrow transplant to live do NOT receive one because of the shortage of potential donors.

We can use the spirit of chardi kala and the urgency of vand chakna to help save lives. If you’re in the Boston area, between the ages of 18-60, in general good health, and committed to donating, you can put your ideals into practice this Sunday.

Where? Gurudwara Sikh Sangat Society Boston at 561 Windsor Place, Somerville, MA

When? Sunday, October 5th from 10 AM – 2PM

No blood tests are required to be on the registry; rather you’ll use a long cotton swab to swab the insides of your cheeks for 10 seconds. The cells that are collected on the swab are sent to be tested for human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genetic markers. Your HLA type is entered into the national registry; if a patient’s HLA type matches yours, you will be contacted by the NMDP and asked if you can donate.

Learn more at


Have you ever watched a commercial repeatedly and then come to realize that you never quite figured out what it was attempting to advertise? You’ll remember the jingle and the characters, but not much else. And then, out of nowhere, neurons fire, and whoa, you’ll finally realize that someone was trying to make you buy something and that both the someone and the something are very clear.

I remember going to the gurdwara as a young Kaur in the summer and asking myself when is that day going to arrive– that day when the sangat distributes wonderfully cold and sweet rose-flavored milk. Year after year I remember that day finally arriving: the contrast of the cold cement supporting my feet and the stagnant heat finding its way through my chuni while taking the first delicious sip of refreshing ruhafza before chugging it down and looking for more. But year after year, even after listening (and not passively either) to kathaa about the significance of this service, I would forget all the painful history that led to this tradition. Similar to the way I typically fail to recognize a product placement in an ad, I missed the boat completely when it came to Sikh history. Unlike the commercial, however, the boat wasn’t a campaign designed by a marketing agent to sway my purchasing power. Rather, the boat was exponentially more important: it was a part of Guru Ji’s message and a reflection of my spirit.

Guru Arjan Dev Ji, the firth Guru of the Sikhs, came to this world in 1563 C.E. as the youngest of three sons of the fourth Guru, Guru Ram Das. In 1581 C.E., Guru Ram Das designated Guru Arjan Sahib as his successor Guru. During his stewardship of the faith, Guru Arjan Sahib continued his predecessors’ work of spreading Guru Nanak’s message of faith, hope, prayer, and love and unity of all faiths… Guru Arjan was tortured to death on June 16, 1606 in Lahore and his body was thrown into the river Ravi. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ and Socrates’ death by poison are the only historical parallels to the unwarranted torture and resultant death of Guru Ji. Guru Arjan, a messenger of love of God and among all people, was executed because of his growing popularity. Sikhs often refer to Guru Arjan Sahib as “Shanti de Punj, Shaheedan de Sartaj,” or “the embodiment of peace, the supreme martyr.” The martyrdom took place during the hottest part of the year, and the torture included seating Guru Sahib on a hot griddle and pouring hot sand over his body. After four days of torture, one devoted follower forsaking personal safety managed to get cold fruit juice through to the Guru. Since then, it has become traditional for Sikhs to observe the anniversary of Guru Sahib’s martyrdom with congregational prayer, taking out processions singing prayers, and performing “Chhabeel” or serving cold refreshing drinks to all, irrespective of religion, race, or caste. The drink traditionally consists of diluted milk sweetened with sugar and often flavored. Juices or cold water may be offered as well.

The Boston Sikh Sangat is commemorating the anniversary of Guru Arjan Dev Ji’s martyrdom by holding a Chhabeel on Sunday, June 14. Hopefully with your help this year the headlines in the Boston Globe will differ from years past. And hopefully I’ll remember more than just the cold yummy drinks in the years ahead.

It was my first day off as a newbie intern on the wards, and I was in a daze. I decided to walk it off by becoming more familiar with the new town I had moved into. As I strolled along the street among the crowds and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my face I stumbled into a bunch of young folk my age with clipboards in hand huddled in front of an Indian restaurant.

Although my activist spirit usually burns bright, the daze was in full effect and apathy had crept in for the day. I had hoped to not get stopped and questioned, but one of the volunteers locked her eyes with mine.

Darn it.

“Have you joined the bone marrow donor registry?” she asked.

Selfish thoughts ran through my head: Are you serious? It’s my first day off after an arduous 10 days. Please. I don’t want to think or hear about anything related to medicine. The blood bank already calls me every other week.

Thankfully, I didn’t allow my foggy head to do the talking.

“I’ve donated blood, but no, I’m not on the registry to donate stem cells. What’s going on?”

The friendly volunteer explained she was part of a larger force trying to find a match for their dear friend. Their South Asian friend, Vinay Chakravarthy. Their South Asian friend, Vinay Chakravarthy, who’s 28 years old. Their South Asian friend, Vinay Chakravarthy, who’s 28 years old and a resident in Orthopedic Surgery at Boston Medical Center. Their South Asian friend, Vinay Chakravarthy, just 28 years old, an Ortho resident at BMC, and recently diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia.

Watch the start of Vinay’s journey in the PBS documentary “The Truth About Cancer.”

Whoa. The similarities hit me hard. His family members were definitely screened for a potential match, I thought, but they must have been found to be inappropriate as donors. Which means he’s relying on those who are genetically similar to him for a cure. Only problem is that South Asians account for nearly nothing (only 1% compared to 69% for Caucasians) in the bone marrow registry.

Gurmukho! Wake up!

As I swabbed the sides of my cheeks I wondered if the cells collecting onto the 4 different cotton tips might have all the antigens that made up Vinay’s cells. I wondered how many South Asians afflicted with cancer were waiting for a phone call from the registry with words of hope and renewal: that a match has been found, that the potential for a cure exists.

Vinay received a transplant last summer.

Unfortunately, Vinay relapsed a few weeks ago. He just finished a new chemotherapy treatment, however, and appears to be doing well.

Whether South Asian, Sikh, African-American, or Christian, you may be the hope someone is looking for. You may be able to infuse the spirit and energy you have been blessed with into someone else. The South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters, led by Vikramjit Chhabra and Roopjyot Kaur in Boston, has done a wonderful job educating minorities to enter the registry. I’m looking at my donor ID card right now; are you? Become a part of the National Marrow Donor Registry, stay committed if you get a phone call, and save a life.

Sikhswim helped spread the word about the Khalsa Health Fair held in Richmond Hill, New York last weekend. Volunteers with the Khalsa Health Foundation, in collaboration with Queens Hospital, provided primary health care screenings and services to the local community.

Hmm, that person in the orange looks strangely familiar, but I digress.

A broad spectrum of people were seen: from young mothers and fathers to undocumented and uninsured sevadars. I was afraid that we would be walking into a pool of rampant uncontrolled hypertension and diabetes, but fortunately, pre-hypertension seemed to be the diagnosis of the day. It was difficult to provide education on improving cardiovascular health in 60 seconds (especially when super salty langar with jalebis and mithai were being freely served downstairs), but attempts were made to connect folks to the surrounding health care system.

It was awesome to see so many young Sikhs spending their weekend helping out as well– definitely a powerful reminder that the Sikh youth are not apathetic but leaders in the making. All in all, the rhythm and pulse of compassionate Sikhs were in sync making for a wonderful day of seva and spirited efforts. Hooray for health fairs!