Holding a Life in Your Hands

2014-10-01 • Comments
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Mr Roger Prior packing stem cells for patient needing transplant in Singapore.

It was several years after going through a transplant for our eldest son Daniel and we still remembered how vulnerable and on-edge everybody felt simply waiting for the precious hand-carried cargo of bone marrow to arrive from Australia. So when the BMDP needed to establish an international courier service to support the growing number of overseas donors, I was pleased to help out.

From the outset we identified Singapore Airlines as our carrier partner; they were an obvious choice offering frequency of flights, direct access to most major destinations and great service. Looking back, they were truly outstanding and from our “shopping list” of asks they delivered on almost everything to help make the trips easier and safer for our couriers.

Examples of this were giving us access to the Kris Flyer lounges for greater security while transporting the stem cells; our couriers disembark first to get to the hospital as quickly as possible and ground staff are on hand to help us through airport security. This can be a real challenge as we are carrying a liquid which is not allowed in the cabin and cannot go through an X-ray machine and very often airport security staff don’t understand or speak English.

As international collections and long haul flights increased, the next challenge was to refresh the ice packs for what could be up to 24 hours with no access to a freezer. The stem cells must be kept between 2-6 °C, so using dry ice provided by Singapore Airlines, we were able to re-freeze the gel packs in-flight using a small additional freezer bag. Everything was designed to minimise risk, reduce the handling required for the stem cell product and to get us home as fast as possible — time was of the essence.

Looking back, there are so many stories as we collaborated around the world in a shared mission to save lives. In China, I was actually taken into the hospital room where family members, media and photographers were all waiting to congratulate the donor who had just completed the 5 hour (Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation procedure. Then, the time a flight delay in Chicago meant we would land in San Francisco at exactly the time my flight to Singapore was due to take off. Knowing that I was a transplant courier, we somehow landed with 10 minutes to spare and escorted by the ground staff literally ran across the terminal and as I boarded the flight, we pushed back for take-off.

Perhaps the highlight in all this was being introduced to Master Cheng Yen the founder of the Tzu Chi Buddhist Foundation. Established in 1966, the Tzu Chi story started with a bamboo coin bank and followers were asked to drop a single coin into the bank every day before going to the market because helping others should be part of our everyday life.

I didn’t fly on behalf of the BMDP every day, but whenever I was carrying a precious life-saving cargo it was a privilege to play my part.

– Interview with pioneer volunteer courier, Mr Roger Prior