In the modern re-telling of an ancient Chinese proverb “three men make a tiger” (三人成虎), bone marrow donation is often ridiculed with untrue negative connotations, which are further reinforced as the universal truth through word of mouth by the misinformed public. In our line of work, we are often heartbroken when patients struck with blood diseases are denied the second chance to live because myths and misconceptions influence potential donors to not go through with the donation process. Below are two such heart-wrenching cases…
Peter (not real name) lives with his humble condominium cleaner parents in a one-room rental HDB apartment, while his siblings stay with their grandparents. The family was devastated when Peter was diagnosed with Acute Undifferentiated Leukaemia at age 17 and there were no matching donors among his siblings or on the BMDP registry. Fortunately, both Peter’s parents were found to be suitable haplocompatible* (partially matching) donors for their son! Though not the ideal donor, they are Peter’s last and only chance of survival.
Not willing to listen to the doctor’s assurance, Peter’s father could not overcome his totally irrational fear that donating bone marrow for his son would cost him his own life. With time running out, love conquered all when Peter’s mother decided to overcome any doubts that she may have and donate her bone marrow to her son. Peter is now on the road to recovery.
In another case, Ahmad (also not real name), diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in 2010, was not as fortunate. Facing impending death, he thought he had a chance of a cure in the form of a matching bone marrow donor. However, after initially agreeing to the procedure, the donor backed out of the donation as she mistakenly believed donating bone marrow would mean not being able to conceive in the future. Even worse, she thought that the process might kill her. With such deep misplaced belief and no other matching donors to help, Ahmad eventually succumbed to his illness and passed away after four painful years of hopeless treatment. Ahmad was just 20 years old.
Believing in misconceptions can be useful to avoid discomforts and we tend to hide behind them, but do people seriously think that BMDP would be allowed to harm or bring harm to anyone knowingly? Truth be told, all donors undergo a very strict medical examination so we know they are absolutely fit and well and none of them suffer any long-term side effects. On the subject of fertility, young donors go on to become parents and a few of them even went on to have their third or fourth baby after donating.
When ignorance prevails, unwilling donors inevitably and unnecessarily cause the loss of precious lives even if they do not intend to. That is why the BMDP relentlessly seeks to educate the public on the truth about bone marrow donation, much like Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise) in the movie Minority Report preventing murders before the act – and this is how BMDP takes the murderers out of people!
*Biological parents can never be a histocompatible (full matching) donor to their children as they inherit half of their genes from each parent.