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!
Born again through the kindness of a stranger
In an emotional meeting, a young woman struck down by leukaemia told the stranger who saved her life that words cannot express the extent of her gratitude.
From graduation to devastation
At the Bone Marrow Donor Programme office, Narita met her donor Jeth Ng for the first time since the lifesaving transplant of his donated stem cells in April 2014. Just three months before the transplant, Narita had come down with what she thought was flu while completing her final college project.
Still unwell 3 weeks later, a series of tests showed that Narita had an aggressive form of leukaemia and her only hope was to have a bone marrow transplant.
Now 24 years old, Narita shared how terrified she was after her diagnosis. She was lying in a hospital bed hoping to survive when all she really wanted was to go away on the holiday she had planned with a group of friends to celebrate their graduation. Despite that, she was most hopeful on the day of her stem cell transplant – feeling that she was reborn, and had a fighting chance – all thanks to a stranger’s bravery and selflessness.
Continue reading Born again through the kindness of a stranger
There are women who ask us questions regarding pregnancy and bone marrow/stem cell donation so we decided to have a Q & A session with Dr Yvonne Loh to answer those questions.
Q: Can I register as a bone marrow donor if I am pregnant?
A: Yes, you can still register as a donor. However, you will not be allowed to donate during your pregnancy.
Q: What are the pregnancy-related risks?
A: You will not be allowed to donate stem cells while you are pregnant as the procedure may entail you undergoing general anaesthesia (for bone marrow donation) or receiving medications to increase your white blood cells (for stem cell donation) that have not been tested on pregnant women, and hence not proven safe for the foetus.
Q: Will a donation affect future pregnancies?
A: No, definitely not. The body will replenish the stem cells or bone marrow within a few weeks and there are no long-term side effects.
Q: How long do I need to wait after a pregnancy before I can donate my stem cells?
A: You should wait until shortly after delivery or after you have stopped breastfeeding.
Q: After delivery, should I consider donating my baby’s cord blood?
A: For any new parents, we do recommend they consider donating their baby’s umbilical cord blood as another way that they can help in the fight to save lives through stem cell transplantation. Similar to bone marrow, cord blood is rich in blood-forming cells that can be used to treat patients suffering from the various blood diseases such as leukaemia. More details are available at the Singapore Cord Blood Bank website.
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
The start of a new year – and also the 20th anniversary of the BMDP – and it was very appropriate that our first visitor to the office was also one of our earliest patients who underwent a transplant in 1996.
Diagnosed at age 11 with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and with no option except to have a transplant, Daniel Prior was the first paediatric transplant patient at the National University Hospital. Today, sixteen years later with a degree and juggling a full time job plus a line-up of interests, he is very real proof that a successful transplant allows the patient to get back to a full and normal life.
In his words, “it was a very long time ago but I do remember waiting for news that they had found a donor for me and once that came through, then it was a real race through time and having all the treatment. Obviously I believe the BMDP is doing fantastic work, and it’s only because a woman in Australia signed up as a donor, that I’m alive today.”
Hard to imagine the year is almost over; all the usual highlights and challenges and now it’s time to look forward to what next year will bring.
42 families in Singapore will remember 2012 as the time they grappled with the stark reality that a bone marrow transplant would be the only avenue to survival and fortunately we found a matching donor for each of them. So, as we go into the New Year, here’s wishing all our patients – young and grown up – a successful and speedy recovery.
And all this wouldn’t happen without our fabulous donors and 5,000 very different individuals all signed up to the cause – united by a promise that they could possibly save a life. So if you signed up as a hero in 2012, then please help us and share our mission over a glass of wine, or a Christmas meal somewhere – because the more people who know about it, then the more friends and supporters we have.
Here’s to 2013 – health and happiness for each of you – and another 7,000 new donors signed up to save a life!
Every day Dr Yvonne Loh works on the front line in the fight against the most common forms of blood disease including leukaemia and lymphoma as a Consultant Haematologist and Medical Director of the Stem Cell Transplant Program at Singapore General Hospital.
Nobody knows better than she does how a transplant can not only save a life but just the chance of survival transforms despair into hope for patients and their families.
After hours, she’s pounding the pavements to win another battle and this time raise funds and awareness for our work at the Bone Marrow Donor Programme – and more money raised, means more lives saved.
Support the Incredible Dr Yvonne Loh and make a donation – every $150.00 donated pays for another new donor on the register. DONATE NOW!
“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