What you don’t know CAN hurt you

I am inspired to write today’s post because of a fellow Korean Adoptee.

This adoptee has a serious health issue, one that is life or death.
And one of the potential options for this adoptee is a bone marrow

Did you know that Asians rarely become bone marrow donors? Including
myself – I have never signed up. I never realized that it makes a

Adoptees are especially vulnerable. The best possibility for a bone
marrow match is through a relative. According to the National Marrow
Donor Program, your only hope for a bone marrow match is through a
relative or someone of your same race or ethnicity. According to an
article in the Pacific News Service, "while some 360,000 potential donors exist among Asian and Pacific Islanders, far fewer actually step up to volunteer."

There are many other health concerns that adoptees and adoptive
parents need to be aware of. One example from my own life: I used to
work in a residential home for adults with disabilities. Every year I
had to have a test for tuberculosis. Every year I tested positive for
having been exposed, although not currently active. This was attributed
to my exposure to TB while in the orphanage. Even though I received a
clean bill of health when I arrived to the U.S., I was never made aware
of the fact that I had been exposed to TB while in Korea. Would you
believe it took the third test that showed positive for me to make that connection? That just shows you how little we Asian adoptees know about our health.

Most of my adopted adult friends are lactose intolerant and I have one friend who found out she has Hepititis B.

So, for all you adopted parents of Asian children out there, who
read this blog – I want to ask you how much you know about the specific
health issues of your children.

In addition, if you are taking your children to a doctor who does
not know about the specific health issues within the Asian population,
then you may be putting your child at risk.

I encourage all Asians and adoptive parents of Asian children right now to check out this website: Asian American Health.

Here, from the AKConnection website,
is an article about the specific health concerns for Asians. Although
this was written to inform Korean Adoptees, all of these may apply to
other Asian adoptees as well.

Please check with your family physicial for their knowledge about
these issues. If your physicial doesn’t think it is important to
understand the medical issues that might factor to your child’s Asian
heritage, FIND ONE WHO WILL.

How many times have you been asked for a family medical
history by a doctor, who left your chart blank when you said you were
adopted? Just because most of us do not know the health issues of our
biological parents does not mean we don’t have health histories. We DO
have health histories and we DO have health issues as a community!
Because our health issues are often different that those of our white
families, our doctors may not effectively diagnose and treat us for our
very real health problems. Our best health defense is to educate
ourselves and each other!

Common Health Issues for Korean Adoptees

Lactose Intolerance
Lactose is milk sugar, found in all dairy products. As infants, most of
us make an enzyme, lactase, to help us digest lactose. As we age, we
slowly lose our ability to produce lactase, and may eventually become
unable to digest lactose and therefore, milk products, very well. If
you have developed a more "sensitive stomach" with age, you may be
lactose intolerant, along with 90% of all Asian Americans. If you’re
not sure, try avoiding all dairy products for one week. If your
sensitive stomach goes away, you are probably lactose intolerant. If
you can’t stand the idea of giving up milk, cheese, butter and ice
cream, lactase enzyme tablets are available without a prescription.
Alternatively, yogurt (not frozen) and goat milk products may be easier
to digest. For more detailed information, check out the National
Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse webpage on lactose intolerance.

Alcohol Sensitivity/ADH Deficiency
About half of all Asians have a sensitivity to alcohol caused by a
deficiency of the low-Km aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH2) isoenzyme (or
ADH deficiency). This leads to a reduced ability to remove toxic
aldehyde dehydrogenase, an alcohol byproduct, from the blood after
consumption of alcoholic beverages. People with this condition tend to
become inebriated more quickly than others and may experience other
toxic effects of aldehyde dehydrogenase, including flushing, rapid
heartbeat, headache, nausea, extreme drowsiness, and sometimes swelling
and skin itchiness even after just one or two drinks. The flushing
symptom has been dubbed "Red Skull" by Giant Robot Magazine (who
published a nice article about the condition a couple of years ago, it
is the "Chappie" issue, if you can find it). While some see this
condition as a minor inconvenience, those with ADH deficiency do not
remove alcohol-related toxins from bloodstream as effectively as
others, and it has been suggested that they may be at higher risk for
alcohol related conditions, such as liver disease, asthma, and cancer
of the esophagus.

Hepatitis B
Hepatitis B is a disease caused by a blood-borne virus which affects
the liver. There is also hepatitis A, C, D and E, but hepatitis B is
the virus most common in Korean adoptees. Exposure to hepatitis B in
Asia is high, though most who contract the virus develop immunity.
About 5-10% of those exposed will not become immune and instead become
carriers of the virus, and can pass it to others, even if the carrier
has no symptoms. Of the carriers, 10-25% develop more serious liver
complications, which may result in death. While not everyone who is
exposed to hepatitis B will become a carrier, carriers often do not
have any symptoms. It is believed that as many as 10% of Korean
adoptees in America may be hepatitis B carriers, and many are
undiagnosed. Usually, we get the disease during childbirth from our
mothers, and may unknowingly be carriers our entire lives. You have to
ask to be tested, because hepatitis B is not common in the U.S., so
most doctors will not routinely screen us for it, even though it is
common in the Asian-American adoptee population (which most doctors
probably do not know). Hepatitis B is a serious disease which can
affect you, your sexual partner(s), and your adoptive and future
families. You should be screened for it if you have not already.

For more information on hepatitis B, check out the Hepatitis B Foundation information sheet at http://www.hepb.org/info.html.
They have a lot of good information so forgive them for listing
"Adoptive Families" among at-risk groups, though strangely, not
adoptees (or other immigrants) themselves.

Although we do not know how many Korean adoptees suffer from
depression, or if we experience depression more than other groups,
anecdotal evidence suggests that depression, and its most tragic
outcome, suicide are a problem in our community. A Swedish study has
found that transnational adoptees are at much higher risk for suicide,
mental illness and drug abuse than non-adoptees, but no such study has
been completed in the United States.

Symptoms of depression may include

  • Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed.
  • Noticeable change of appetite, with either significant weight loss not attributable to dieting or weight gain.
  • Noticeable change in sleeping patterns, such as fitful sleep, inability to sleep, early morning awakening, or sleeping too much.
  • Loss of energy, fatigue.
  • Feelings of worthlessness.
  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness.
  • Feelings of inappropriate guilt.
  • Inability to concentrate or think, indecisiveness.
  • Melancholia (defined as overwhelming feelings of sadness and grief)
    accompanied by waking at least two hours earlier than normal in the
    morning, feeling more depressed in the morning, and moving
    significantly more slowly.
  • Disturbed thinking, a symptom developed by some severely depressed
    persons. For example, severely depressed people sometimes have beliefs
    not based in reality about physical disease, sinfulness, or poverty.
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches.
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, wishing to die, or
    attempting suicide. (Note: People suffering this symptom should receive
    treatment immediately!)
    If you have had four or more of these symptoms most of the time for two
    weeks or longer, you may have clinical depression. Even though things
    may seem hopeless, treatment for depression is available. Get help; it
    may save your life, and your life is worth saving!Click www.learn-about-depression.com to learn more about depression and its treatment.Click http://webmd.lycos.com/content/article/49/39926.htm
    to read a Web MD article about the Swedish study in which transnational
    adoptees were found to have higher instances of committing suicide,
    attempting suicide, receiving treatment for psychiatric problems, or
    abusing alcohol or drugs.
  • Author: JaeRan

    Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

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