Meet the Make Me Stronger Foundation: Channeling a loved one’s CLL diagnosis into an opportunity to provide support, power, and strength for those in need, resulting in an initial $75,000 donation to Be The Match.
There’s nothing quite like a sibling bond. When something happens to one it more than touches the other. 10 years ago, the person Adarsh Doshi shared this special bond with – his sister, Ekata -- was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL),
a cancer in which the bone marrow makes too many lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell). Adarsh knew a bone marrow transplant was his sister’s best chance for a cure, so the search for a matched donor began.
The CLL diagnosis was devastating, but the news only got worse—donor match rates aren’t the same for everyone.
White patients have a 79% chance of finding a matched available donor on the registry, while the odds for minorities finding a match drop significantly, sometimes as low as 29%.
"Because of our South Asian descent, my sister had less than a 50% chance of finding an available match,” Adarsh shared. “Leukemia was enough to deal with. Then there are real struggles in the awareness of non-invasive bone marrow transplant procedures which lead to less committed donors. People have a chance to save a life in an easy way and just don't know it.”
But the challenges were just beginning.
Three suitable donors for Ekata were found. Each time, that glimmer of hope was quickly extinguished as all three donors decided not to move forward. Finding a suitable match wasn’t good enough, because matches don’t always lead to donations.
As reality set in, Adarsh, Ekata, and their friends did the only thing they could: channel their energy into something bigger.
“The circumstances were heartbreaking and traumatic. But it was also our reality, along with that of many other families in the same situation. We embraced my sister’s energy and spirit,” said Adarsh. “We followed her lead and focused on what we controlled—what we needed to do and what we could do. We channeled our energy into a platform of raising awareness and improving the odds for people in need of bone marrow. We created ‘Make Me Stronger’ to help patients globally.”
Make Me Stronger (MMS) started as a blog—a safe space for the community to share stories and resources. The site celebrates the actions that make people stronger and inspires others to take actions within their control to give momentum to this movement for strength.
As the community grew, they hosted drives across the United States, registering over 2,000 marrow donors. They were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support, inspiring them to share the impact of Make Me Stronger more broadly.
Kelley Wright, a close friend and a MMS founding member, was inspired by how their vision evolved for their first grant.
“Our first thought was to focus on improving the quality of care someone received. But as we spent more time with Be the Match, we realized the real need was with people who were unable to move forward with the transplant process due to personal financial constraints. So, we set out to build a more inclusive program with Be The Match, one that ensured someone who beat the odds in finding a match and getting a committed donor, would not have anything more in their way of getting that transplant—a chance my friend never got.”
The Make Me Stronger Foundation launched with an inaugural grant of $75,000 to Be The Match to support patients facing financial hardship that could prevent them from receiving a transplant.
“Knowing all the barriers on a journey to healing, the financial barrier is one we can collectively eliminate,” said Ekata.
MMS responded. Inspired by the Harper Family Foundation matching gift, the foundation's generous donation to support patients facing financial hardships was extended to five years.
As the MMS team expands its reach and scope, the opportunities and gaps continue to surface and the community continues to rally further. The organization believes that no matter who you are, you can do something for someone else—and you can draw strength and support from your community through a shared struggle and a shared sense of purpose.
“Your masterpiece is a reflection of who you were, who you are and who you want to be,” said Ekata. “The puzzle piece you are, is your legacy. We’re still working on both. Make Me Stronger is one way we can give back and make sure that everyone who finds themselves in this journey also finds a community of people to call upon for strength and support. Something that resonates with us exponentially, as we rally around another member of our family impacted by leukemia.”