Saturday, November 29, 2008

Five-year-old Lydia Miyashita

I have been following this story through my Shangrao, Chengdu and Panda Family Yahoo Groups. It touched my heart and I wanted to share it with you all and keep it for the girls. The words below are all from the email I received and an article that was written by Cheryl Powell.

"The story of a little girl adopted by an Orrville couple develops rare form of leukemia

that might be helped only by biological relatives back in China.
Doctor, orphanage help make connection."

Leukemia fight breaks barriers of culture, miles
By Cheryl Powell
Beacon Journal staff writer
Published on Sunday, Nov 30, 2008

"As Monica Miyashita stood in a government office in China and met her
beautiful dark-eyed daughter for the first time, she felt a nagging
desire to know the girl's story.

Who were the people who gave her precious baby daughter life?

All the orphanage workers could provide her and her husband, Mark,
were sketchy details about how Xinhuan ''Huan Huan,'' as she was
known in China, ended up abandoned and alone.

When she was just a day or two old, she was discovered tucked inside
a box alongside a city wall on the streets in Guangdong province of
China. (Her adoptive parents would later tell her she was like Moses,
placed in a basket so she could be sent off to safety, to a better

Now, four years after her adoption, her Orrville parents are
desperately trying to bring their daughter's missing biological
family in China back into her life to cure her of a deadly disease.

Five-year-old Lydia Miyashita is battling an aggressive form of
leukemia that doctors say requires a bone-marrow transplant.

Her best chance of survival is to get a transplant within the next
month or two from a relative - ideally, from a brother or sister who
shares many of her genes.

But who were the people who gave her life? Did they have other
children, too?

And could those strangers halfway around the world in a country of
more than 1 billion people be found in time?

''We all knew that the chances of getting hit by lightning were
probably greater,'' Mark said.

''It would be very unlikely for a child and a birth family to
reconnect,'' Monica agreed. ''Very unlikely.

''Pretty much everyone said, 'It will never happen.' ''

Everyone, it seems, except for one doctor-turned-

detective at Akron
Children's Hospital, who just happened to be from the same Chinese
province as Lydia.

Dr. Xiaxin Li, the new director of the bone-marrow transplant program
at Akron Children's, was determined to find Lydia's birth family back
in his homeland - and, in the process, to find a possible cure for
his young patient.

''If they're a local family,'' he told Lydia's parents, ''they'll
come forward.''

And now it appears possible that some of them might soon be coming to
America to save her.

Energetic patient

Except for her balding head from strong doses of chemotherapy, little
about Lydia betrays the seriousness of
her illness.

On most days, the friendly, precocious girl with the
nickname ''Liddy'' remains full of energy and spunk, even during her
current stay in the cancer unit at Akron Children's Hospital.

''I want to be an actress when I grow up,'' she announced recently,
while carefully applying bright pink lipstick and stringing a long
strand of beads around her neck.

With little prompting, she'll proudly and soulfully belt out a few
lines from her favorite musical, Cats.

''Memory, all alone in the moonlight. I can smile at the old days, I
was beautiful then. I remember the time I knew what happiness was.
Let the memory live again.''

The innocent, carefree days when Lydia was blissfully healthy aren't
that distant of a memory for her parents.

Mark, the son of a Caucasian American woman and a Japanese man, grew
up in Japan and moved to the United States to attend college. He met
Monica their freshman year at Hiram College in 1990, and the two
married eight years later.

The Miyashitas spent several years building their careers - hers as a
lawyer in Orrville and his as a computer programmer and Web designer
at the J.M. Smucker Co. - before deciding to start a family. Monica
also teaches courses in Chinese civilization and Japanese
civilization at Wayne College in Orrville.

When they discovered they couldn't have biological children, they
opted for an international adoption from an Asian country.

They got their first glimpse of their daughter in a picture sent in
an e-mail from Family Adoption Consultants, an adoption agency in

The baby girl had tiny feet, full lips and strikingly thick eyebrows.

''She has Brooke Shields eyebrows!'' Monica's law partner said in

When they adopted her in China on July 5, 2004 - exactly a year to
the day after she was found in the street as a newborn - Lydia was
hardy and strong.

Lydia picked up English quickly and within months began toddling
around the Orrville family's home.

About two years after her adoption, Lydia got a little brother. The
Miyashitas adopted Max at age 1 from Korea.

The multicultural family's busy life settled into a happy routine.

''She was super-healthy,'' Monica recalled. ''She's had maybe one
bout of flu her whole life.''

The troubles started innocently enough in May, when Lydia developed a
throat infection she couldn't shake.

An ear, nose and throat specialist recommended she have her tonsils

But days before her scheduled surgery in August, her parents rushed
her to Akron Children's with a fever despite antibiotics.

Within an hour, doctors shared the grim diagnosis: leukemia.

''I was shocked,'' Monica said, ''but in another way, I just knew
there was something wrong.''

Further tests revealed even worse news. Lydia has a type of leukemia
that's rarer among children and more difficult to cure.

With her form of leukemia, a bone-marrow transplant from a sibling
who matches enough tissue markers is the first choice of treatment.

''If you have a family member,'' Li said, ''you go directly to
transplant. However, if you don't have a family member, if we can get
you into remission, we can continue chemotherapy waiting until a

Unfortunately, the first round of chemotherapy failed to put her into
remission as hoped.

''That put her in the high-risk category,'' Li said.

Li immediately began searching the millions of potential donors
through the National Marrow Donor Program but couldn't find a good
match for Lydia.

''We really have a shortage of bone marrow donors for the Asian
population and minority populations,'' Li said.

Orphanage helps

While talking with Lydia's parents, Li discovered he and the girl
came to America from the same city in China.

''I think you were sent by God for us,'' Monica told Li. ''I really
do believe it. I think it's amazing that he's here.''

With only scant details about Lydia's background, Li called the
orphanage director in China in September and recruited her help.

Through her conversations with Li, the orphanage director told the
Miyashitas that she still cared for the girl she called Huan Huan
(pronounced ''Foon Foon'') as one of her own.

''She's been your daughter for four years,'' she said, ''but she was
my daughter for one.''

The doctor and the orphanage director each contacted Chinese
newspapers and persuaded them to publish pictures of Lydia with
stories that shared her plight and urged anyone who thought she might
be a relative to come forward by contacting the orphanage.

Li had a hunch that Lydia's birth parents probably lived in the rural
region near the orphanage. Shortly after she came to America, she was
diagnosed with a blood trait that he knows is more common among
Chinese from that part of the country.

Li stayed up late every night to call the orphanage director for
updates to his urgent questions:

Who were the people who gave Lydia life? And did they come forward to

At the same time, the doctor continued to hunt for an unrelated donor
worldwide, searching donor banks in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea,
Japan and Singapore.

And every day, her parents prayed.

''Please continue to pray that . . . Lydia's birth mother will be
brave and come forward,'' Monica wrote on a Web site dedicated to
sharing updates with family and friends.

Startling news

English-speaking Christian missionaries who assisted at the orphanage
kept in frequent contact with Mark and Monica through e-mail and cell-
phone calls.

While he was resting early in the morning at the Ronald McDonald
House near Akron Children's on a Saturday in October, Mark received
the call they had been waiting to get.

He could barely make out the words of the missionary through the bad
connection: ''We have good news. We're fairly certain we've found the

Mark rushed over to the hospital, where Monica and Max were staying
with Lydia.

As he pulled Monica into the bathroom for a private conversation, she
was certain he had bad news to share.

''Don't get too excited,'' Mark told her, ''but judging from the
excitement, this might be it.''

Overwhelmed, Monica burst into tears.

They'd found the people who gave Lydia life - and maybe, they prayed,
the same people who could save her life.

In a separate phone conversation, the orphanage director shared more
details with Li.

A woman had come to the orphanage to say she was fairly certain the
little American girl with leukemia she had seen in the Chinese
newspaper articles was her cousin.

She recognized Lydia's ''Brooke Shields'' eyebrows and full lips. She
saw those same features on the faces of her three cousins in China: a
3-year-old boy and two sisters, ages 16 and 18.

The family spoke an unusual Chinese dialect of Hakka, which fit
Lydia's genetic markers.

The woman who came forward told the orphanage director that she had
watched five years ago as her newborn girl cousin was left in a box
on the streets and then alerted authorities that a baby needed help.

Chinese families in rural portions of the country are typically
allowed two children, Li said. In urban areas, families are usually
allowed one.

To the Miyashitas, Lydia's story was indeed like the Bible story of
Moses, who was left along a river as a newborn by his mother to save
him from an edict by the Pharaoh to kill all Hebrew baby boys.

Scripture tells how Moses' sister, Miriam, watched over him and made
sure he was rescued.

''I call her 'Miriam,' '' Monica said of Lydia's newfound
cousin, ''because that's who she is to me.''

Blood tests

After the cousin came forward, the family in China agreed to go to a
nearby hospital where Li used to practice, to undergo blood tests to
confirm they were Lydia's relatives and to determine whether one of
the siblings was a potential bone-marrow match.

Within several days, Dr. Li had test results to share.

''Is it good news or bad news?'' Monica asked nervously.

''What do you think would be good news?'' the doctor asked in

''That they're the real family, and that there's a match,'' she
replied instantly.

''Then,'' Li said, ''I have good news for you.''

Initial tests showed Lydia's 16-year-old biological sister matched on
five of six critical tissue markers, making her a good bone-marrow

''I'm going to hug you!'' Monica said, embracing the doctor in

Soon afterward, Monica spoke to Lydia's biological cousin over the
phone with the help of Li, who served as their interpreter. (The rest
of the family speaks a different dialect than Li does, so they can
communicate with him only through the orphanage director.)

''Lydia has a great life in America,'' Li told the cousin, explaining
how the little girl born in rural China now could swim, play violin
and dance.

''Nobody in the family can do such things,'' the cousin responded.

For now, Lydia remains at Children's Hospital, where her primary
oncologist, Dr. Mohammad Talai, is overseeing her care after a third
round of chemotherapy.

Hopes for transplant

Although she's in remission, her type of leukemia tends to relapse
quickly. Ideally, Li said, Lydia will get a bone-marrow transplant in

''We need to do it as soon as possible,'' he said.

If plans for Lydia to get the transplant from her sister fall
through, there might be another option.

While searching for Lydia's biological family, Li continued
contacting bone-marrow and cord blood donor banks around the world to
find an unrelated match.

He finally found a cord blood bank in Taiwan that offered a potential
match, though it's not as good as the one from her sister.

Parents around the world with children they adopted from the same
region as Lydia have responded to Monica's postings on Web sites and
offered to have their sons and daughters tested to see whether they
might be potential donors as well.

''The outpouring of support from the adoption communities has been so
overwhelming,'' Monica said.

The Miyashitas are working with U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula's office to
speed the process of getting a visa to allow Lydia's biological
sister and father to come to Akron. The Miyashitas will be paying all
the expenses and arranging for a place for Lydia's Chinese family to

The orphanage director, who speaks the same dialects as Lydia's birth
family and Dr. Li, probably will accompany the family as a translator
and escort.

For the donor, the process is a quick procedure that involves
extracting a small amount of marrow from the hip bone, Li said. The
bone marrow regenerates within a day.

Afterward, the donated bone marrow will be transfused into Lydia to
replace her cancerous bone marrow, which will be killed off by high
doses of chemotherapy beforehand.

The hope is the new bone marrow will thrive inside Lydia's body and
cure her cancer.

And in the process, Lydia and her biological sister would have a
lasting connection that spans the thousands of miles that separate
(Incredible story about a family and search for birth parents in
China. Never say never!)

''Her family had to give her up and then gave her to the orphanage,
in effect to save her, so to speak,'' Monica said. ''And then we have
to go back to them to save her now.

''It's kind of come full circle.''"

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