After a rare diagnosis, this former Hawaii chef is hoping for a miracle ― and a match

“It’s been a little rough."
Published: Oct. 5, 2022 at 4:54 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 5, 2022 at 6:58 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kara Lee was born and raised in Hawaii. She was a chef for 18 years and owned the popular downtown eatery Burgers and Things.

When she married her husband, Curtis, they moved to Portland.

“He’s an artist and he’s so lovable and wonderful,” she said.

But their perfect world of pursuing careers and raising cats took a major turn in August when Kara collapsed and was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia ― an extremely rare blood disease.

“In America, it probably affects 2 out of a million people per year,” she said. “I do have a severe version where my only cure is a bone marrow transplant.”

But because of her tissue type, it will be difficult to find a donor. People of Asian and mixed-race backgrounds make up a very small percentage of the donor pool.

Be the Match Hawaii is trying to sign up more of them.

“I think it really comes down to just awareness. So many people want to help out with causes like this but they’re just not aware,” the non-profit’s Nainoa Wong said.

Since her diagnosis, Lee’s world has gotten a lot smaller. Hospital visits for platelet and blood infusions are her only outings.

“It’s been a little rough,” she said, fighting back tears.

“It’s just that I’m prone to any kind of bacterial, viral, fungal infection. I’m taking a lot of medication to combat that. And I just started immune-suppressant therapy.”

This weekend, Be the Match is holding a donor drive at the Blaisdell Center.

Look for the non-profit’s booth at the Food and New Product Expo. You can also register at

“You can help someone like Kara or any of our patients in Hawaii really or across the world. It just takes a simple online registration form and a cheek swab,” Wong said.

A GoFundMe drive was launched to help the Lee’s with medical expenses.

Unfortunately, Kara’s only sibling isn’t a bone marrow match, and there’s irony to her story.

“I was actually on the bone marrow registry myself until I took myself off this month,” she said.

Lee was willing to be a donor for someone else in need. Now she needs someone to come to her rescue.