Chinese New Year is usually a joyous occasion for families and loved ones to gather for cosy reunions to begin the new year in high spirits. However, the mood was much more sombre for Miss Lee Soo Boon and her family during the Chinese New Year in 2015 as she received the news that would change her life forever.
Up until then, life was good for Soo Boon. She was happily married with two children and working in a job that she loved at a local hospital. But her life changed drastically in just one day.
She recalls, “I kept having fevers in December 2014. At that point of time, I did not think too much about it, brushing it off as nothing more than a common flu symptom. However, after 1 month of persistent fevers, I decided to seek consultation from a doctor friend. When the blood test results returned, my friend urged me to be admitted to a hospital immediately. That was when I knew something was terribly wrong. It was one week before the Chinese New Year.” Doctors diagnosed Soo Boon, then 46, with Chronic Myelogenous Leukaemia
Initially, doctors could control Soo Boon’s condition with medication but this worked only for a short time for the short term but a transplant will be needed for definitive cure. A life-saving transplant was needed and with no match within the family, a bone marrow search was activated and BMDP began the search for a suitable donor immediately.
Just four months later, a bone marrow match was found and Soo Boon underwent a transplant. However, not just when things were looking up, her condition took a turn for the worse. Her body started to reject the donor’s stem cells, also known as engraftment failure. Another bone marrow donor was needed to save her life.
“My job in the hospital prepared me for this kind of life and death situation but I was more worried for my family. My son, who was 15 at that time, understood what I was going through and was pretty worried for me too,” she said.
“I wrote my will and prepared my family for life without me if there was no other bone marrow match,” she candidly admitted.
Fortunately for Soo Boon, the BMDP was able to find another matching bone marrow donor and her second transplant took place in December 2015, this time successfully with no engraftment failure.
Recovery was quicker than expected and she returned to work in September 2016 – less than 12 months after her second bone marrow transplant. “After the whole ordeal, I learned to take life easier and appreciate the time I have with my family. To be given a second chance in life was a blessing to me,” she said.
Soo Boon’s experience demonstrates some of the many obstacles a patient faces even when a bone marrow match is found and highlights the reality that sometimes a single transplant may not be enough. Finding a match can be arduous, with a 1 in 20,000 chance of finding a suitable donor and the transplant itself a gruelling experience. Complications like an engraftment failure can be all it takes for hopes of a cure to be shattered.
Soo Boon was lucky and counts her blessings every day as she carries on in the work she loves, meeting people and most of all sharing precious time with loved ones. She and other patients like her are the reason why we all work hard in the BMDP to constantly reach out to the public to encourage them to sign up as bone marrow donors. Step forward to help more patients like Soo Boon! Sign up to be a bone marrow donor today!