Looking back over the past 22 years since the BMDP was first set up, in many ways very little has changed and our primary objective remains to save lives; yet it is an entirely different world for our patients and their caregivers.
Blood diseases such as leukaemia and lymphoma continue to devastate hundreds of families every year bringing fear and isolation as patients grapple with the implications of a life-threatening illness. The numbers are based on the population size and not on behaviour and almost without exception, patients tell us they were in perfectly good health and this diagnosis came totally out of the blue.
Yet, on the positive side, from just one hospital able to offer a transplant in 1993, today we have highly specialised teams in place at six local hospitals all supported with the very best in facilities and infrastructure. Success rates have improved significantly during this time also, and today a patient being treated in Singapore has the same chance of survival as anywhere in the world.
Another major milestone over recent years has been the number of older patients who have been able to opt for this life-saving treatment. With a healthier (and wealthier) community of active seniors, many of them are keen to go through a transplant and have the chance to enjoy a longer time with their families and loved ones. Changes in the conditioning treatment are making it easier for this to happen and today it is not unusual to see a patient in their sixties and even seventies.
That’s the good news and what hasn’t changed is that the key to survival still depends upon finding a healthy donor. All the medical facilities and expertise in the world isn’t going to help if we cannot find that one person in 20,000 who is a match and yet in our increasingly sophisticated and interconnected world, attitudes, old wives’ tales and selfishness still prevail.
Sharing our story that being a donor is no more than a handful of days and putting up with a little inconvenience and discomfort still goes unheard. People want to believe that it’s difficult and dangerous because in this way, it’s easier to say “no” and even worse, it justifies undermining the decision of those people who are committed to saving a life. Our amazing donors who did step forward when we called them up as a match tell us horror stories of the friends and family around them who criticised them for what they were doing. Yet speaking with them, they are almost unanimous in saying that it was “ no big deal” and while they have no physical impact from making the donation, they each know in their hearts that they have done something extraordinary – and simply because they could.
So come on Singapore! Are we fifty and fabulous with the generosity of spirit and soul that surely our success can bring – stepping up to help someone else or shall we be fifty and foolish in our belief that it won’t ever happen to me.
We need 50,000 more bone marrow donors in the next three years. Only then will we be able to deliver on our promise to find a donor for every patient – and what better time to commit to a promise than a celebration of 50 successful years.