Hawaii's Little Girl
Alana Dung dies
The child who fought a
battle with leukemia taught Hawaii
about generosity and compassion and
opened a door of hope to other fragile heroes
By Veronica Fajardo
Hawaii's little girl is dead.
Cute, frail Alana Dung in need drove thousands of strangers to cafeterias, shopping malls and sports complexes across the state to be tested as possible bone marrow donors. Their only link: a compelling need to help Alana.
Roy Yonashiro, recruitment coordinator for the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry, never met Alana.
"The real hero of this story is Alana. If it wasn't for her, there would not be hope for other patients around the world," Yonashiro said. "The people of Hawaii should be proud. They rallied together to show the true meaning of aloha and love for Hawaii's little girl."
Alana died yesterday at 12:45 p.m. at home in Nuuanu. She was 3.
Special to the Star-Bulletin
Alana, showing the effects of chemotheraphy, shares
a tender moment with her father, Steve Dung.
Alana's father, Stephen Dung, sat on the steps of the front porch to their home just hours after his daughter had died, greeting family and friends who dropped by.
In a statement, the family said Alana died peacefully. She had suffered a relapse in recent weeks, causing her weakened immune system to give out.
"Alana was a courageous and spirited fighter to the end," said parents Stephen and Adelia Dung in a statement. "Our family would like to thank the people of Hawaii and the many, many individuals who have supported and prayed for her.
"We are hopeful that Alana's life has brought to the forefront public awareness of leukemia and the need for public support to aid those who are inflicted with this disease."
Alana's uncle, Dr. Alvin Chung, said: "It was comforting to receive the support from everyone. It was a long journey made easier by that support."
Alana was diagnosed with acute myeloid, type M-7 leukemia in 1996, six weeks before her second birthday.
Doctors detected the rare form of leukemia after Alana complained of stomach pains for about a month.
After weeks of searching for a matching donor, a donor was found in Taiwan from among the Tzu-Chi Foundation's Bone Marrow Registry with a bank of 120,000 registrants.
By Photographer, Star-Bulletin
Alana Dung and her family: Father, Steve,
brother Spencer; and mother, Adelia.
Alana underwent the bone marrow transplant on July 17, 1996, at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, where she stayed for four months before returning home. With the transplant, Alana had a 70 percent chance of survival.
Yonashiro said that because of the drives held on Alana's behalf, numerous bone marrow matches for other leukemia patients have been found.
Thousands of Hawaii residents lined up for hours at 42 bone marrow drives held across the state. Before the Dung family's plea for donors, the Hawaii registry had 16,500 registrants. Today, there are more then 50,000 names on the list, with 30,788 of those names directly attributed to Alana Dung.
More importantly, many new registrants were from among a poorly represented donor pool -- Asian/Pacific Islander populations. Of the 2.7 million donors registered with the National Donor Program, 83 percent are Caucasian and only 4 percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders.
Hawaii's diverse ethnic mix makes the islands a potential source of matches for people all over the world, Yonashiro said. "But it also means the odds are stacked against us finding suitable matches anywhere else but from amongst ourselves."
In Hawaii, the greatest demand for transplants is from among the Asian community. Alana's odds of finding a suitable match were 1 in 19,000 if the donor was Asian. Those odds increased to 1 in 20,000 if the donor was non-Asian.
Yonashiro said that as a direct result of the drives there are more than 700 preliminary matches that have been identified and at least seven people from the 1996 group have consented to be donors.
He said Hawaii is now the ninth-largest bone marrow registry in the nation, surpassing even Los Angeles as the largest number of Asian and Pacific Islanders recruited for the donor registry, but "it's still not enough." The bank is striving to sign up a minimum of 4,000 new donors every year specifically targeting these groups.
"Whenever I see some matches that come through, when I see the 1996 ones, I know it's from Alana's drive," he said. "That little girl will continue to touch so many lives."
Alana Dung's legacy is one of hope and life, Yonashiro said.
Chris Pablo, 46, another Hawaii leukemia patient, will remember Alana.
"She gave me and other leukemia patients hope," Pablo said. "She is responsible for 30,000 people signing up and giving all of us a chance to find a donor; already people's lives have been changed through the efforts of her and her family."
Pablo worked closely with Alana's family during the drives, while awaiting his bone marrow transplant. A suitable donor was found for him and his transplant took place in November 1996.
He said he's doing well but continues to face his "little battles," and will continue to carry on the work that Alana and her family started.
"Her family is tremendous, and I have to say, so was our community," Pablo said. "They responded and gave generously, answering the call to share life."
As a survivor of leukemia, Pablo said, for the first two years you live in constant fear of infection or relapse.
"This is what you go through and what the Dungs must have been going through," he said. "I feel their pain at the loss of a child. We have lost a daughter and friend."
Highlights of the last months of Alana Dung's life, 1996-97:
April 5, 1996: Diagnosed with rare acute myeloid, type M-7 leukemia
April-June: More than 30,000 registered in 12-week drive for bone-marrow donors, which helped boost the Hawaii Bone Marrow Registry's donor rolls from 15,000-plus to nearly 50,000
May 20: Alana celebrates her second birthday
May 29: Word received that compatible donor is found in Taiwan with help from Tzu-Chi Foundation
June 4: Leaves for Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
June 8: It's announced Alana will undergo a week of chemotherapy and then a month of rest before transplant
July 17: Receives transplant
Sept. 9: Released from hospital
Sept. 10: Readmitted to inpatient care because of potential infection
Sept. 24: Leaves Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; discharged to outpatient department and remains in Seattle to undergo further tests
Nov. 14: Returns home from Seattle amid encouraging condition reports
Christmas Day: Makes her first public appearance before a cheering crowd as the guest of honor at the Aloha Bowl game
May 20, 1997: Celebrates her third birthday