Did you know that life-saving stem cells collected from donors around the world are transported by hand? The BMDP has a small team of dedicated volunteer couriers whose work is vital in saving Singaporean lives. While most trips are straightforward, sometimes external factors cause major disruptions for our couriers. This is Eleanor’s story …
Hoping to play a part in saving someone’s life, I decided to volunteer with the Bone Marrow Donor Programme as a courier transporting the stem cells collected from a donor that can save a patient’s life. I underwent training on all aspects from the temperature of the cooler box in which the stem cells are transported through to the detailed paperwork on collection and handover, and even accompanied an experienced courier on a trip.
When the BMDP asked me if I was available for my first solo courier trip to Taiwan earlier this year, I excitedly agreed, knowing another match was found that could save someone’s life.
However, as I was preparing for my departure, the devastating news broke that TransAsia Flight 235 had crashed into Keelung River, tragically killing most of those onboard. Transport into and around Taiwan was thrown into chaos. A small-scale tragedy was looming if I couldn’t get to Hualian on Taiwan’s east coast to collect the stem cells desperately needed by the patient in Singapore.
My trip was initially postponed and then my connecting flights were cancelled shortly before my rescheduled departure. The BMDP stepped in and activated a staff member’s relative, Mr Cho, who managed to purchase a Fast Train ticket from Taipei to Hualian, despite the upcoming Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations.
And so I set off, aiming to stay calm and maintain constant contact with the teams in Singapore and Taiwan. After touching down in Taiwan International Airport, I cleared Customs and made my way to Taipei Main Station. I met Mr Cho and he presented me with home grown bananas and grilled sweet potatoes for snacking on during the two-hour train journey and accompanied me to the gate. I thanked this wise and gentle man before boarding.
The view was breath-taking and I reached Hualian after sunset. I flagged a cab to the hotel, and arranged to meet Wendy, the Tzu Chi contact, at 7:30am the next day. Before getting some rest, I had the cooler packs placed in the hotel’s freezer so they would be ready to keep the stem cells chilled on the trip back to Singapore.
After an early wakeup call, I collected the cooler packs and headed to Tzu Chi Hospital. I met Wendy and we headed to the Department of Laboratory Medicine to complete the paperwork. The stem cells were then placed into the cooler box and handed into my nervous care.
I left for the train station where Samuel, a Tzu Chi volunteer, was waiting. He shared Tzu Chi’s history with me as we drove to Taipei International Airport, leaving me inspired by the many people who volunteer without expecting anything in return.
Arriving at the airport well ahead of my confirmed 5pm flight, I was eager to get an earlier flight to return the stem cells to Singapore as soon as possible. I was escorted to the lounge, where I waited anxiously until I was told I could proceed to the gate and board the 2.05pm flight.
Soon enough, I was back on Singaporean soil and ready to commence the final leg of my journey. I made my way to the hospital where I handed the cooler box over to the laboratory contact. He inspected the temperature logger, went through the paperwork, and everything was signed off by 8:00pm. A sense of relief washed over me as I handed the baton over to the hospital.
I was so grateful to play my small part in the amazing collaboration that goes into saving the life of a patient through a stem cell transplant. While there were logistical difficulties in my trip, this is nothing compared the trauma the patient and their family goes through. My heart goes out to them, and I am full of admiration for the brave donor.
I hope others will help the BMDP by recruiting more donors, overcoming the misconceptions in the community and ultimately providing patients with that one chance of a cure.
Written by: Eleanor
Download PDF: Couriering Through Crisis to Save a Life