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Call it ‘fate,’ or ‘kismet:’ 20 years later, this brother is a bone marrow donor to sibling

IU Health University Hospital

Call it ‘fate,’ or ‘kismet:’ 20 years later, this brother is a bone marrow donor to sibling

As a college student Eugene Vivo registered with the national bone marrow donor program. He never got a call. When his sister recently needed a transplant, Vivo was a match.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

They may never know why the years went by, but timing is everything for this brother and sister. It was 20 years ago when Eugene Vivo was a student at Purdue University with his mind set on a career in genetics. With an interest in health, he stopped by a campus blood drive, and got the simple cheek swab that registered him as bone marrow donor.

His information was added to “Be The Match,” a non-profit organization that connects patients with volunteer stem cell donors. “There are fewer people of color on the registry. I think the relationship between people of color and the medical profession has not always been the best for a number of historical reasons,” said Vivo. “There are lot of socio-economic factors involved. If you don’t have a healthy relationship with your primary physician, you probably don’t have a great relationship with the medical profession in general.”

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, (ASCO) there are 22 million potential bone marrow donors. Only about 30 percent of all patients can find a fully matched family member, so most people are matched through the registry. According to the ASCO, certain combinations of human leukocyte antigen (HLA) markers may be common to an ethnic group because of its evolutionary history. That commonality makes matches more likely. So it’s critical to have minority donors and donors of mixed ancestry.

“Be the Match” reports the odds of finding a match based on ethnic background are: 29 percent for Black or African Americans; 48 percent for Hispanic or Latino; 60 percent for Native Americans; 79 percent for White; and 47 percent for Asian or Pacific Islander.

Vivo’s heritage is Filipino. When he was six, his family immigrated to the United States. “My mom moved us to northwest Indiana to live with my aunt. Two little Asian ladies raised us to be good people,” said Vivo. He is the youngest. He has two sisters and a brother.

It is the oldest of the four, his sister Tiffany, who was diagnosed on Jan. 4, 2023 with leukemia.

Vivo is no stranger to IU Health. He began working as an Electroneurodiagnostic (END) technologist 15 years ago and joined IU Health six years ago. In his role, he monitors patients’ nervous systems and tests their responses to various stimuli. He also monitors brain activity using EP and EEG. “When I’m working in the OR, I’m able to relay information effectively. We’re not just providing a service; we’re building a trust. It’s great to be part of that team,” he said. He mostly works at Riley Hospital for Children but occasionally works at IU Health University and Methodist Hospitals.

On a recent weekday, Vivo took some time to visit a special patient at University Hospital - his sister, Tiffany. She was admitted to IU Health in late March.

“She had been tired and noticed some bruising and red dots on her chest. She got bloodwork done and the same afternoon was told to go to the hospital,” said Vivo, 44. She was admitted to another hospital the following day and later transferred to IU Health. Twenty years after he registered as a bone marrow donor, Vivo received notice that there was a 48-year-old woman in Indianapolis who needed a transplant.

“I assumed it was my sister,” said Vivo. Not long after, his suspicions were confirmed when he received a call from IU Health nurse Cheryl Sullivan who works with the national bone marrow registry.

Vivo completed paperwork, bloodwork, and a physical exam and began taking a prescription to stimulate the growth of his white blood cells. On April 4, 2023, he was connected to an aphaeresis machine for four hours and that evening his sister received a peripheral stem cell transplant.

“I’m not exactly sure what motivated me to sign up as a bone marrow donor and I’m not sure why it took 20 years,” said Vivo. “Call it ‘fate,’ or ‘kismet’ either way, it’s an interesting story and we hope it’s a happy ending.”

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