Just Folks: The Ladies of SAM

Today we have a a very special Just Folks, featuring our friends and fellow Kentuckians at SAM (Sharing America’s Marrow). Sisters Alex and Sam Kimura, and their good friend Taylor Shorten, are about to set out on a year-long adventure to register bone marrow donors across the United States. Over the next twelve months, they will visit all 50 states, holding “donor jams” in the hopes of getting 50,000 people swabbed and registered to be potential bone marrow donors, and to educate people about just how easy, and important, donation is. To celebrate the beginning of this awesome year, we asked them a few questions about their lives, their project, and their ultimate road trip.

From left: Taylor Shorten, Sam Kimura, and Alex Kimura

For those not in the know, who are you and what exactly will you be doing for the next year?

We are saving lives! Seriously though, we have a goal to register 50,000 potential bone marrow donors in 2015 in all 50 states. We’re loading up our van, Maggie, and hitting the road — stopping at universities, concerts, festivals, businesses, and anywhere in between to swab people.

Where did the idea start?

It started in a booth at the Olive Garden. Going back a little farther, Sam got sick in 2010 with severe aplastic anemia, a life-threatening bone marrow failure disease, and was told she would need a bone marrow transplant. Alex, her sister, wasn’t a match. She felt like she had failed as a big sis and decided that if she couldn’t save Sam, she would find someone else who could. Luckily, Sam started to respond to an alternative treatment and manages her illness to this day. But after going through that ordeal and learning that thousands of others are left without a cure simply because there aren’t enough people on the registry, the SAM girls decided they needed to dedicate their lives to changing this. It was officially decided, over bread sticks and endless soup and salad, that the best way to get the word out across the country was to get face to face with as many people as possible. And thus the tour was born.
Sam & Maggie

There are a lot of ways you could have raised awareness for your cause, so why a road trip?

Like we said, we felt this was the best way to share our story and to reach a goal like 50,000 people. I mean, we’ve already pretty much depleted the Kentucky market (kidding…kinda). But it is also a way to share an adventure as sisters and a best friend. We feel so lucky that all of us have this chance to live life to the fullest in so many different aspects. After a time when things were much more uncertain, we’re looking forward to having this time to get closer to each other, and to be able to reach out and inspire others.

What has the community response been like so far?

Louisville has been amazing. Since we really got on our feet in September, we’ve signed up over 3,600 potential donors…that’s about 80% of our goal for Kentucky. We feel very lucky to have such a good support system in our hometown as we set out across the country.

Who are your heroes?

Alex: Sam
Taylor: Oscar Romero
Sam and Taylor, ready to kick blood cancer’s ass

What does it take to become a bone marrow donor?

Joining the registry is really simple. It only requires a short consent form and a painless cheek swab; it takes about 5 minutes. You can find out about bone marrow drives near you through groups like Be the Match or Delete Blood Cancer. And even if there is no registration event near you, you can go to deletebloodcancer.org and sign up online! Totally free!

What will each of you bring to the table for this project? 

Sam: Director of Communications. People in the survivor community reach out to her all the time. Sam gets us connected to people and communities. She also has a fresh eye and keeps our social media on point.
Alex: Executive Director. Alex has the ability to see everything from every angle. It’s kind of creepy how much she can think about and process at once, which is why she oversees this project and makes sure everything goes off without a hitch. Not one.
Taylor: Director of Development. Taylor is in charge of organizing and promoting the drives and making sure that there is at least one event set up whenever SAM hits a new city. She’s also good for general weirdness of the group. And Spanish.

Will you be documenting this adventure? How can people follow your trip?

We will be documenting! A lot. We’ve got lots of cameras on board and will be recording weekly video diaries for all you fine people following us. You’ll be able to find that on our website, sharingamericasmarrow.com. There are also some other projects in the works, so who knows — maybe you’ll be seeing a SAM doc on Netflix one of these days.

How can people get involved?

There are a plethora of ways! If you’re interested in helping us set up a drive at your local university, business, place of worship, etc., you can email any of us through our website. You can also feel VERY welcome to donate money that can get us one mile farther on our journey to save lives. And of course, get signed up on the registry! You could be the one person in the world that can save a patient’s life. That is the coolest ish ever.

Are there any destinations you’re particularly excited about?

We are going nuts about the West. We just picture ourselves chilling in our van cooking outside and spending nights under the stars. We’re all ready to take on the hippie versions of ourselves. And we’re getting weirdly stoked for Savannah, Georgia, as well.

You’re going to be on the road and away from home for a long time. What are some of your go-to homesickness cures?

We will be watching The Office pretty consistently. We’re also fond of dancing through rougher times. Taylor Swift seems to be a good choice this season.

Who’s the best driver? What about the best navigator?

Alex. And also Alex.

What’s on your ultimate road trip playlist?

You can actually listen along with us every week via our website. We’ll be posting a new playlist every week with what we’re currently listening to. We’d describe it as eclectic with a few surprises thrown in.

What snacks are a must for those long hours in the van?

Alex will eat roughly 1 million oyster crackers over the next year. We are trying to maintain our forms even on the road, so the van is loaded up with some healthy food and some chocolate. Hopefully those two will balance each other out.

What’s your favorite way to pass the time on the road?

We mostly just say words. We’d like to consider ourselves novice wordsmiths. We will say them until they lose meaning. People would probably hate more than 30 minutes in a car with us. Also Alex likes show tunes.
To find out more about SAM and to follow their adventures over the next year, check out their website! You can also like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and YouTube. And be sure to check out their super cute merch — every hoodie, tank, and pint glass helps support their journey.


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