Jeannin-Melissa And Brigitte Russo

Sarah Pacheco
Wednesday - February 23, 2011
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When their mother, Natalie Oana, was diagnosed with acute leukemia last year, sisters Jeannin-Melissa (on left) and Brigitte Russo (right) were in shock. Oana had always been healthy and stayed active, often going for hikes with them and keeping involved with 17-year-old Brigitte’s school activities.

After an intense five-month round of chemotherapy, Oana’s health improved and life went back to normal. But the week before Christmas, the leukemia returned, and Oana spent the holidays back in the hospital undergoing more chemotherapy.

Although the cancer is now in remission, the treatments have taken a toll on the 51-year-old’s body. Which prompted Jeannin and Brigitte to go to “Plan B,” as they put it, and put out a search for a bone marrow donor.

Since the beginning of 2011 the two have been working with a group of their mother’s classmates from Kamehameha Schools Class of 1977 to organize bone marrow registration drives and fundraisers, the first of which will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday during the Kamehameha Schools Ho’olaule’a in the Community Booth (Konia Hallway, Room 107) on the Kapalama campus. Donors must be between the ages of 18 and 60 and in good general health. For more information on becoming a donor, call the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry offices at 547-6154 or go online to

“There’s power in knowing that you can help save someone’s life when you register to become a bone marrow donor,” says Jeannin, 25.

And even if the drive does not yield an immediate match for their mother, Jeannin and Brigitte know their efforts could find a match for someone else in need, especially those of native Hawaiian and multi-ethnic descent.

“Bone marrow is very ethnic-specific, and native Hawaiians only have a 3 percent chance of finding a match,” explains Jeannin, a third-year law student at the UH law school.

“We urge everyone to register at the ho’olaule’a,” adds Brigitte, a senior at Punahou. “We need to help each other out.”

Jeannin, Brigitte and “Operation Kokua Nat Oana” - which has grown from 20 to more than 100 supporters, including other Kamehameha alumni, Oana’s college friends from Santa Barbara, friends and family - are planning additional events later this year. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) to learn more.


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