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.”
“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.
The past one week has been amazing! 14 year old transplant recipient, Reza met the 28 year old woman who saved his life for the very first time and the real miracle is a Chinese donor being a perfect match for a young Malay patient!
It’s a “first” for us and it was a real joy to be with them while they both shared their stories amid lots of laughter like real old friends … For our Superwoman (who doesn’t want to be named) she told Reza that she was never worried about making that life-saving donation – she know somebody’s life depended upon her plus it was a safe and simple procedure – but she was very worried it might mean she couldn’t go and watch the first F1 Night Race in Singapore! For football-mad Reza, meeting Superwoman’s fiancé in a matching Arsenal t-shirt really made the match and so a new friendship begins.
Every so often people ask why do I still want to be involved in the BMDP; after all, it is exactly 16 years ago today that Daniel had his transplant and life moves on. Indeed and rarely do we talk about this in a personal context – but every search to find a donor is because another family is struggling through the worst of times and waiting for good news that we have found a potential life-saving match.
So when someone asks you about bone marrow transplants, please share what you know about the BMDP and help us with our mission. We desperately need more donors to sign up – and also you could make a donation to help pay for the tissue typing – with your help, more people will have a chance to survive and meet the hero who saved their life.
Imagine – soccer was Reza’s passion, and representing the school team in a tournament was his dream. However, life is unpredictable and Reza was diagnosed with leukaemia just days before Christmas.
While the world celebrated, he had to spend all the holiday season in a hospital bed and almost worse than that, his hopes of representing the school team the following year were also dashed.
For Reza, life had just come to a juddering halt and the future seemed to be an endless lineup of hospital visits, tests and loneliness – until that fighting spirit kicked in.
Reza stayed strong and with support from the rest of the family, underwent chemotherapy while all the time waiting for a suitable donor to be found. Without a bone marrow transplant, Reza’s future was just 3 years of chemotherapy and pretty bleak so it was great news when just 7 months later the BMDP found a suitable match for Reza. “Such a kind person! they don’t even know me, yet are willing to donate”, Reza expressed, “I would kneel down and bow and say thank you very very much”.
Not only did the donor save Reza’s life, but once again he has the opportunity to continue pursuing his dream. Healthy and fit, life is back to normal – soccer, friends and everything that can fit into another day of being alive.
Donating bone marrow is a minor inconvenience and discomfort – but the impact is permanent and life-changing. Be a donor, you can save a life.
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!
With older adults being fitter and healthier in recent times, raising the age limit of donors to 60 years of age will give the donor register a huge boost
Singapore, 10 July 2012 – The Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) today announced a revision in the age limit for volunteers to donate their bone marrow to non-related patients suffering from leukaemia, lymphoma and other blood-related diseases. With immediate effect, any donor on the register will now be eligible to donate up to the age of 60 years (from 55) which brings the BMDP in line with major registers in the UK and the US.
A Singapore charity, the BMDP builds and manages Singapore’s only register of volunteer bone marrow donors and also provides a 365-day service to support the local transplant hospitals looking for a match for their patients. The register currently has around 50,000 volunteer donors. Every year, the BMDP targets to add another 5,000 donors to increase the odds of finding a match; this is just 1 in 20,000 in the general population of the same racial group.
According to BMDP President, Jane Prior, “We are re-defining the barriers imposed by age in every aspect of society and our announcement today is very much aligned to this. Older adults today are fitter and more health-conscious, and by adding five years to the availability of each donor, we are providing a tremendous boost to our local register as a source of life-saving bone marrow or stem cells for transplant.”
To join the BMDP register as a volunteer bone marrow donor, any individual in good health, between the ages of 18 and 49, provides a small DNA sample through a simple cheek swab and consents to having their sample tissue-typed and then being added to the BMDP database. Only if a donor is identified as a match for a patient, will they actually be asked to donate their bone marrow or blood stem cells. Tissue-typing each donor costs S$150.00 which has to be covered through public donations and fund-raising. In this context, the younger the donors are when they join the register, the longer the lifetime value they represent to the patients.
A bone marrow transplant is becoming a preferred treatment for many blood diseases and the work of the BMDP is escalating year-on-year. In the first 6 months of this year alone, more than 200 requests were submitted by the local hospitals to find a match for their patients. Bone marrow or blood stem cells were delivered to 29 patients between January and July from donors sourced through the local BMDP register or from a partner register around the world.
About the Bone Marrow Donor Programme Established in 1993, the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) is a non-profit organisation responsible for building and managing Singapore’s only register of volunteer donors who are willing to donate their bone marrow to save the lives of patients with leukaemia and other blood diseases and who need a transplant to survive. The BMDP also provides a 365-day service to the local hospitals to search the local register in search of a match and where necessary extend this to partner registers around the world. To date 50,000 donors have registered to be on the database and the BMDP has facilitated more than 420 transplants. To improve the odds of finding a match, the BMDP aims to increase the register by 5,000 new donors each year. More information is available at www.bmdp.org
So what exactly does happen if I am a match? That’s the BIG question everyone asks so I spent time with one of our real-live donors just the other day and here’s his story – so you don’t just have to take my word for it!
Meet Xu Kang – slightly irreverent, studying for his degree and possibly the first to agree a rather unlikely hero; but that’s what he is. So when he came up as a possible match for a patient, it was a real surprise – especially as he admitted – he’s terrified of needles and the first thing we wanted from him was a blood sample!
“So, afterwards, what was the big deal? It was ok and when the results came back, and I was a confirmed match, then my Dad suggested it would be a really good way to” get over it” and stop being scared of injections.
I also knew that anything I had to do as a donor would be over soon enough – the doctor explained about the four days of injections followed by one day as an outpatient while I actually made the donation. It was no big deal for me, and yet I knew for the patient, if I pulled out, they most likely wouldn’t likely make it.
I didn’t have any side effects from the injections and the day as an outpatient was ok – my Dad drove me over and my best friend from school came to keep me company – and even the BMDP people turned up, with a teddy bear! Anyway, we watched some movies and all the time I had a needle in one arm for the blood to be collected and then returned to the same arm – it was uncomfortable but no big deal… “
And after it was all over? “I was really hungry, so on the way home we walked over to the food court for chicken rice!”
Read more about being a donor in our “Ask the Doctor” feature with Dr Yvonne Loh