Blood disease does not differentiate between culture, race, language or religion. While the disease does not discriminate, the solution in finding a matching donor does. A vast majority of successful bone marrow transplants require donors and patients to be of the same ethnic group due to the similarity in their genetic makeup. With a pool of just 7,000 Malay and Indian donors found on the local register, the chances of finding the 1 in 20,000 match are much slimmer. We thus urge more members from the Indian, Malay and mixed ethnic backgrounds to step up and join the register. You could save a life!
Imagine the price of a hotel buffet spread for just the price of an ikan bilis? Not even a nasi lemak. Just an ikan bilis. Wouldn’t you be making your reservation? Two years ago, I first came across a Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) drive in my school. After reading and listening to the presentation, I did the two-minute cheek swab. This put me on a waiting list — one that is searched by doctors around the world and when a patient’s bone marrow matches mine, I get to give as little as an ikan bilis to help fulfil their last option to survive. Yet, the patient gets the buffet of life — a chance to complete their degree, get married, see their children grow up. On my side, all I had to sacrifice was a few days, experience some minor inconvenience, and some discomfort, an ikan bilis when measured in a total lifetime.
Back at the drive, I was surprised to hear that there aren’t many Malay donors on the register. My heart aches remembering the pakcik (uncles) and makcik (aunts) patients. A bone marrow match is usually within the same ethnic group, and if the odds are 1 in 20 000, with less than 5,000 Malays on the register, my community have an even lower chance of finding a match.
We, Malays, take pride knowing our large extended families, right down to our tiga pupu (third cousin). What if one, if not some, of them was a waiting patient? Do my brothers and sisters in Islam know the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) fatwa allows bone marrow donation? As I advance towards a healthcare career, I hold an excerpt from the Quran close to my heart:
“If anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.” (Quran 32:5)
I would love “to save all of mankind” with just this tiny bit of my bone marrow. A medical procedure that can be done in a single day, with hardly any risk or side effects. A good feeling in the heart is better than a satisfied stomach; and definitely better than an ikan bilis for a Carousel dinner.
– by Noor Hanisah Binte Noordin, a Singaporean Malay third-year aspiring pharmacist at the National University of Singapore
“If you try, go all the way – it’s the only good fight there is…” Strong words from a man who wants to be known as Ah Siao – the runner on a very special mission at this year’s Standard Chartered Marathon.
Ah Siao’s journey began just 5 weeks ago and now he is about to make history – running his first ever marathon and dragging a tyre at the same time – all in support of the BMDP.
“The runs are really torturous and I wanted to quit after my first training session with the tyre but then I think of the patients who need a bone marrow transplant to survive and all they can do is wait for the good news that a match has been found. That makes me even more determined to not only finish the marathon but to show the world that all it takes is courage and commitment,” said Ah Siao.
With only eight weeks to prepare for a full marathon, Ah Siao is pushing the limits by training twice a day, five days a week and clocking 100km in as many days. “The pain after each run is excruciating but here’s the thing; I can rest, re-fuel and be good to go the next day; but leukaemia patients do not enjoy that luxury,” shared Ah Siao. “It’s the same for a bone marrow donor who has to put up with minimal discomfort but through that one act, they can save another person’s life. We have options; the patients do not.”
A volunteer for four years, Ah Siao appreciates the tremendous odds that the BMDP is working against to find donors; plus with zero government funding, it’s a marathon effort to raise the funds needed to keep growing the register. “The tyre symbolises the hard work and endurance people need to overcome any obstacle in life,” explained Ah Siao. “However, strength and endurance isn’t enough to save a leukaemia patient – a matching bone marrow is the only cure.”
Since it started, the BMDP has found a match for close to 500 patients and recruited 50,000 donors to the local register. But with the odds of a patient finding a suitable match being a whopping one in 20,000, some patients are simply running out of time and we urgently need more donors to come forward. Neither righteous nor noble, Ah Siao simply wants to connect with one person at a time – to forward the BMDP’s life-saving cause and in his words, “the ancestor of an action is a thought. I want to plant this idea so we can fight not just one battle, but to win the war,” concluded Ah Siao.
Donatetoday and save a life tomorrow.
Written by Francis
On a rainy holiday in the Yorkshire Moors many years ago, I picked up the original “Ladies of Rylston” calendar – it was just a couple of years after Daniel’s transplant and middle aged English ladies wearing only their pearls and natural elegance to raise awareness for leukaemia definitely got my attention…. especially so in the sun-starved valleys of North Yorkshire where warmth trumps style any day of the year!
Anyway, clutching my precious find, I came home and dared suggest to the then-President of the BMDP that we should invite the ladies of the Tatler to strip for our cause – I was absolutely convinced this well-dressed and amazingly successful group of power-women would love the idea – although being Singaporeans, we’d have to trade the pearls for the bling! Anyway, long story short, I was completely out-voted by the boys of the BMDP committee who were simply horrified and it only validated their un-voiced opinion that I was a bit “odd”. Even worse, I had to fight hard to hang the calendar on my own office wall….such were the times and how they’ve changed!
Anyway, it’s fabulous news that next week Calendar Girls makes its regional debut on stage in Singapore and the BMDP will be right there with them! We cannot promise you naked lady t-shirts – we’re even keeping our own clothes on – but I do recommend that you buy a ticket and come see the show. The movie was poignant, funny and most of all, has helped raise millions of dollars around the world to fight the battle against leukaemia and other blood diseases.
Hope to see you there.
– Written by Jane Prior
Tickets are available on sistic! Click here: http://tinyurl.com/9zvdsjv
When his only brother was diagnosed with leukaemia and the only chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant, the first obvious place to look for a donor was within the family.
Saad was devastated when he wasn’t a match and his brother’s life was in the balance as a search was initiated to find a volunteer donor on a register such as the BMDP. Life was tough for all the family with little to do except keep hoping that someone, somewhere will turn up as a perfect match but Saad was all too aware that there was only a 1 in 20,000 chance of finding that someone to save his brother’s life.
As Saad shared, “it was awful having to wait for good news but eventually we found two possible matches and one of them was willing to make the donation.” Today, Saad’s brother is alive and even back at work and Saad himself has registered to be a bone marrow donor because as he explains, “I may not have been a match for my brother, but I really hope that I could be a match for someone else’s!”
Why should people sign up? Because there is no greater gift or impact that you can have on another person’s life – to help them live… and why wouldn’t you?
It’s four years since Bryan’s life was saved by a total stranger and finally he got to meet his superhero.
For final year engineering student Lim Shi Hong, it was real proof that donating his bone marrow – something that just took a little time and some discomfort – had changed the world for an entire family and allowed one brave young boy to live.
Sign up as a bone marrow donor, help someone live!
Enthusiasm, creativity and proactivity – mix them and you get “Compass-ion Communications” – the Murdoch University team who adopted BMDP as a graduation project. In a quick chat with these bubbly characters – all of whom admitted to know nothing about bone marrow donation when they started out – have learned a lot to date and are keen advocates for the cause.
“We chose to represent the BMDP because their mission to save lives touched us deeply,” said Nathaniel Lee, the team spokesperson, “and we felt there were so many opportunities to reach out to the public”.
The team presented their detailed communications plan to the BMDP on the back of research they had done at a community level. “We wanted to enhance the BMDP’s communication channels to better reach out to potential donors and volunteers plus the mission needs all the help it can get in obtaining funds,” said Nathaniel.
“Jane provided us with constructive feedback and we are eager to refine our plan. The BMDP is a tremendous cause and through this association, we hope to not only give them some useful tools and ideas – but also get a boost in our own careers” said Nathaniel.
Spot on guys! Watch out for the Compass-ion Communications video – coming soon!
The team is scheduled to present their plan at the Project Reach conference on 3rd August at the EDB Learning Centre as well as submit a report for grading under their Campaign Management module at Murdoch University.
Having signed up as a bone marrow donor, there are still many questions unanswered on what exactly happens when someone is found to be a matching donor for a patient. We asked Dr Yvonne Loh, blood stem cell transplant physician, to give you a simple overview of the most frequent questions our donors ask about being what actually happens during a bone marrow donation.
So what will actually happen if I’m identified as a match?
First of all, we will call you and arrange a time to collect a small blood sample which we will use for “Verification Typing”. This will confirm that you are indeed a suitable match for the patient.
If the doctor selects you as a donor, the next stage is what we call “Donor Workup”. This includes a full physical examination to make sure that you are fit and healthy to donate and during that session the doctor will share more about the donation process including any risks and side effects. You will also be informed if the transplant doctor has requested for either a bone marrow or cells collected from the blood – Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation. If the transplant doctor has no preference, then you will be able to choose the method you prefer.
Can you explain more about the donation process?
There are two methods of donating bone marrow:
Traditional Bone Marrow Donation is a short procedure done under General Anaesthesia and bone marrow is extracted from the pelvic bone. Usually the donor will be admitted to hospital the evening before and discharged the day after donation when the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off.
Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) Donation is an outpatient procedure and the donor is given a small injection of filgrastim – or GCSF – every day for five days. This is a naturally occurring chemical which stimulates production of the bone marrow cells (blood stem cells) which then spill out into the bloodstream where they can be collected through a blood-donation like procedure. The difference is that once the blood is collected, it goes through an aphaeresis machine which removes ONLY the blood stem cells and everything else is returned to the donor. This procedure usually takes 6-7 hours as an outpatient and immediately afterwards the donor is free to leave.
Which is the best method?
Neither method is better than the other although the default for most donor centres today is to harvest blood stem cells using the PBSC method which cuts out the need for a General Anaesthetic. If the donor has a preference, we would try to accommodate that unless the transplant centre specifically makes a request based on the patient’s medical condition.
Are there any side effects?
For the traditional Bone Marrow harvest, there is always some risk associated from a General Anaesthesia but from the actual harvest procedure, serious side effects are very uncommon. As only 5% of the donor’s bone marrow is collected, feedback from our donors usually suggests the after-effect is similar to having a sports “tackle” and they are a little stiff for a couple of days.
With a PBSC harvest, some people experience headaches and / or heaviness to the limbs rather similar to a flu-like ache during the 5 days of hormone injections. This is usually relieved through taking a simple painkiller and in almost all cases, these stop immediately upon collection. Again, serious side effects are very unusual.
What can I expect after I have made the donation?
After a traditional Bone Marrow harvest is completed, most said they would be back at work or studies a day or two after making their donation.
Sometimes a PBSC collection may require two days, but it is an outpatient procedure and the donor does not stay in hospital. After the collection is complete, usually the donor is free to go home or back to work and the bone marrow or blood-forming cells will be back to their normal levels within two to four weeks.
Do I have a choice as to which procedure I prefer?
Sometimes, the transplant doctors will allow you to state a preference and we do try our best to support your preferred method of donation. However, depending on the patient’s condition, the doctor may recommend the procedure that would best aid in the patient’s outcome.
Are there any follow up examinations?
Yes, you will be looked after every step of the way. There will be follow-up sessions scheduled after donation – usually at least one week and one year after your donation. Once the doctor signs off after your last visit, you will not need to return for any subsequent follow-ups. All costs incurred will be covered by the BMDP including any required medicines in the unlikely instance that any treatment is required.
Do I need to incur any costs?
No, you do not need to pay for anything. Any out of pocket expenses will be reimbursed to you including travel expenses as well as any loss of earnings that may result from your donation.
Do you inform my employer that I am a donor?
Yes, we will definitely communicate with any relevant person or individual depending on the donor’s needs. Usually employers are very supportive and willing to support any donors through giving additional leave as necessary to cover the various appointments. We will also talk with other members of the donor’s family if this would be helpful in reassuring them of the procedures involved.