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Stanford professor who needed bone-marrow match dies at 54

Original post made on Nov 1, 2013

A Stanford professor whose students and friends rallied to help her find a bone-marrow match has died. Nalini Ambady, 54, a professor of psychology, died of leukemia Oct. 28 without having found a donor.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 31, 2013, 4:37 PM

Comments (4)

Posted by Bru, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2013 at 12:06 am

Bru is a registered user.

What a terrible shame. I feel so sorry for her and her family. I think maybe the people who do these transplants for bone marrow need to post a video of the procedure so people can be informed about it. I've heard it is not that bad, not what it used to be. What a waste. Such a bright mind and such interesting research.


Posted by a, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:17 am


What an amazing person, it is a real loss to the world. My own life is palpably better because of the societal shift about intuitive thinking, I did not know the central role her work played.

@Bru,
Please do not think the situation with the bone marrow donor is a tragedy. In my own case, I have signed up for a registry years go, but in the time since, was diagnosed with an illness that makes me ineligible to donate. You don't know why people did not, very likely if they chose to go in the registry, they didn't just choose not to donate without serious reasons.

And transplant isn't guarantee of a cure. Two very close people to me have died of lung complications from bone marrow transpants in the last four years. One was told she had such a great chance of cure, the doc said if you were going to have cancer, you'd want it to be that one. In both cases, there was an exact match, including sibling match.

I hope those who loved her can take comfort in the lives saved by their efforts, but let go of any recriminations that they somehow failed because the matches they found didnt (or more likely, couldn't) donate.


Posted by The facts, please, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2013 at 9:28 am

The truth is that it is very difficult to find a perfect match for people of certain ethnicities, and near impossible for people of mixed ethnicities to find a perfect match. The match MUST be perfect to succeed.

Case in point: The daughter of a close friend desperately needed a bone marrow transplant due to the fact that she had developed secondary leukemia as a result of chemotherapy for a spinal tumor. After three years of searching, including a search in Europe, no perfect match was found, and time was running out. A close, but not perfect match, was found in another state, and that bone marrow donation was flown here for immediate transplantation. Less than two years later, my friend's daughter developed host vs graft disease as her body rejected the transplant. Her immune system failed, she caught the flu twice in a row, developed double pneumonia twice in a row, and died of multiple organ failure.

This poor girl was of mixed ethnicity, and had been sick since nine years of age, and had spent nearly half her life in the hospital. The fact is that ethnic and mixed race people do not donate organs and bone marrow as much as other Americans. Mixed race is such a broad term that it is very difficult to match the exact mix of the patient, even from a large pool of mixed race donors ( if such a pool existed).

Ideally, everyone would be a card-carrying donor, but this is not a perfect world. Cord blood donations can be lifesavers, but the cost of donation and storage are extremely prohibitive. Until these problems can be remedied, valuable lives will continue to be lost.


Posted by Goolrukh Vakil, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm

My deepest sympathy to Dr. Ambady's family.

This potentially avoidable tragedy highlights the impact of culture in our daily lives. From creating interesting differences, to misunderstandings, to academic insight, here we have a situation where cultural taboos (of the Indians who genetically matched for a bone marrow transplant) play an important role.

Mired in superstition, Indians largely conduct their daily lives based on the location of the stars and their influence shed down upon us on earth. Shrouded in spiritual quest, legitimate for many, some conduct their relationships with a façade of tact and neutral sympathy that belies true empathy. The giving of life for life can perhaps be one's greatest opportunity for good karma, yet, while believing so strongly in karma, Indians who were a match defied their own superstition and rejected this opportunity--to give mere marrow, not even their life.

It is not their "fault." The psychology behind their fear, this transposition of beliefs, this self-defeat, this confluence of superstitions one on top of the other such that there is ultimate confusion as to what is the spirituality in their religion, is what underlies decisions to not donate bone marrow to save a life. It is a real-life study in cross-cultural psychology. The importance of non-compartmentalized academia is unavoidable now--it can join cultural psychology with sociology, religion, anthropology, philosophy in order to continue to truly educate. To educate not only our educators (of people who can donate bone marrow), but to understand the underlying forces that prevent people from donating bone marrow such that they too can be handled with empathy while encouraging to overcome their fear.


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