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.
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?
A very big thank you to everyone for making our work here at BMDP a success! Here’s an update for the year 2012, take a look at what we’ve been doing to help our patients with Leukaemia and blood-related diseases.
There’s an unproven theory that everyone on the planet is only six steps away – by way of introduction – from anyone else on earth and in Singapore, our world seems to be even smaller. How many times when you meet a total stranger do you find an immediate connection – work, school, church group or sports club – and so the tangled – and wonderful – web of relationships is woven.
So let’s consider the BMDP. With one of our courier team flying in from an overseas collection today, we have delivered stem cells or Bone Marrow to a total of 36 patients. Measured in family members, loved ones, playmates and colleagues who are all impacted by the devastating news when leukaemia or a similar blood disease strikes, the BMDP has directly impacted a huge number of people. I would like to believe that we are separated by just three degrees from all of Singapore’s 5 million population; but however you measure it, our work brings a chance of survival, hope and belief for the future – and that is the goal that drives us.
So while it is nearly September and for many of our friends out there, 2013 plans are already underway, there is still time for you to help us keep making this life-saving difference. We have our October plans to reach at least 30 companies during the month and recruit more donors – so if you think your colleagues would like to find out more, then please give us a call and let’s arrange a donor drive in your company. Then of course, you can continue to help us by funding our work through a donation and that’s just a click away on the online portal.
An innocuous foray into unchartered territories brought us to the BMDP. Our newly-formed team was clueless about working with non-profit organisations – our maiden experience – and we had to come up with a marketing plan as our final year degree project.
With a compass in hand and sparing no effort on the oars, we rowed patiently to our goal – to develop the ideas and concepts to help the BMDP address its key issues and on 3rd August, our Compass-ion Communications team, anchored our boat in good stead.
It was a privilege to work with the BMDP, an organisation that has been saving lives for 20 years. Many would probably say that if you embark on an expedition and don’t know what to expect, you won’t make it. I concur with that, but that is the same situation leukaemia patients needing a bone marrow transplant face – an unknown voyage in the open sea. Where should they go to? Will they make it?
We came up with a storyboard brochure and a video around the theme of “family and friends, loss and love”. Badges and cover photos were created for the BMDP’s Facebook page to help recruit advocates, give them recognition and help spread the word. A “20,000 challenge” was also proposed with students folding hearts to take onto the streets for fund-raising and awareness building.
With these in the bag, we finally reached our destination. The judges liked our ideas – awarding us third place out of 16 teams. A small consolation for us but also a lesson in how arduous it can be to row against the current of reluctance and scepticism. We all have a fresh perspective on what it takes to save a life and it ws heart-warming to witness at first-hand the commitment the BMDP brings to helping someone out there live again.
This gift of life is in your hands; I urge you to give hope to all patients. Don’t leave them at the mercy of the sea. Hand them your oars and compass. When it comes to life and death, the relentless pursuit of saving lives can only be edged forward by you.
By: Nathaniel Lee
On behalf of Compass-ion Communications.
Compass-ion Communications is a student group from Murdoch University, SMa Institute of Higher Learning. The campaign for BMDP was done as part of MCC307 Campaign Management, a compulsory final year project for all majoring in public relations.
People ask me all the time about my involvement with the BMDP – and I explain that my son had a transplant after being diagnosed with one of the more difficult types of leukaemia. Where the diagnosis offered only one choice; to have a transplant.
We were lucky to find a matching donor in Australia and a decade and a half later, Daniel has a degree, a job and things are good. For me, life these days is all about building for the future – adding names to the BMDP donor register, chasing up potential matches for our patients and making sure we have the funding to grow.
So, it was a lightning bolt at the weekend’s “Hair for Hope” when a voice spoke out of the blue, “Jane, great to see you… but I guess you don’t remember me?”
I didn’t immediately recognise him – it was a long time ago when I had a child with cancer and a distinctly younger CCF volunteer – and now their Honorary Secretary, Ho Cheng Huat – was one of Daniel’s “minders” at Camp Rainbow. Reflecting back since the weekend’s chance meeting, I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to remember those days; dashing between hospital, home and office; juggling three children and working with Daniel as he stoically faced up to the innumerable tests and procedures. We rationalized it as our own personal NS – bad-hair or no-hair days, boots on, don’t ask and just do it!
I learned a great deal from those months. Daniel gave back to me all the courage that I ever tried to give to him; the generosity of friends from nowhere and everywhere who helped in small unobtrusive ways, who sent us hats and the others who beat a drum for us.. Most of all, it was about tenacity – being brave enough to never doubt that this was anything more than a tunnel – with light and friendship along the way and surprisingly a lot of laughter amid the anguish – but definitely a tunnel with an end in sight.
So I guess this is my small salute to all of today’s parents of children with cancer – doing their own NS routine. You must know there are so many people out here all shouting out for you and your amazing children – we’ve got 50,000 of them all signed up to give their bone marrow if it’s needed – and after this weekend, there are a lot of shaved heads all giving and growing their support.
Daniel Prior was NUH’s first paediatric Bone Marrow Transplant in 1996
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 goes on behind the scenes in the life of a BMDP committee member? I spoke with Declan MacFadden – loving husband, doting father, leading executive and dedicated committee member of the BMDP – about his vision and what inspired him to embark on this journey.
With six wonderful children, a successful career and opportunities to travel and see the world, Declan led a fulfilling life. Until one day, several years ago, all this fell apart when his youngest son was diagnosed with leukaemia. “It felt like a death sentence at that time,” says Declan.
“Nothing I knew, none of my business capabilities or family experience, could help. The feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming,” he adds. “Our desperate search for assurance and help was met by the wonderful staff at NUH and BMDP who helped me and my family through that terrible time. I will never be able to thank them enough – not only for their medical expertise but for the emotional support, counsel and factual information they provided. The BMDP team includes leading transplant surgeons as well as people who have gone through the same awful experience, so they are eminently qualified to shine a light on the darkest time a family can face.”
Declan’s son went through a successful transplant and is now a strapping young man of 17 years.
Emerging from this traumatic ordeal strengthened Declan’s resolve to help families who are facing the same situation. “I am driven, at the deepest level,” says Declan, “to do all I can to make sure other kids get the chance that my child was given, and that other families are sustained by the same support that BMDP provided to mine.”
Declan describes his commitment to the BMDP as a cause in which he can exercise his vision of supporting sufferers, educating the public, increasing the register of donors and raising the funds so urgently needed for tissue typing tests.
Not one to mince his words, he said, “We need to be consistent in our work for BMDP every day of the week, every day of the year because we do not know when we will be called upon – morning, noon or night – to provide a matching donor for some youngster who is in pretty desperate shape. We can never forget that BMDP is in the business of saving lives, and I feel privileged to play a part in this remarkable organisation.
Today we are featuring Dr Yvonne Loh, Haematologist and Medical Director, Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Program from Singapore General Hospital.
She will be answering the questions we frequently come across during donor drives.
Dr Yvonne Loh is a blood stem cell transplant physician at the Singapore General Hospital, is a volunteer donor and sits on the board of the BMDP as a volunteer. Working with patients with blood diseases such as leukaemia and lymphoma she speaks about what it means to be a bone marrow donor.
“Family sizes in Singapore are getting smaller, and fewer patients have a brother or sister who may serve as a suitable blood stem cell donor.”
Q: Why are bone marrow transplants needed?
When a person suffers from leukaemia or other deadly blood-related diseases, sometimes the best chance for a cure is through a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant.
Q: What are the chances of finding a donor within the family?
Family sizes in Singapore are getting smaller, and fewer patients have a brother or sister who may serve as a suitable blood stem cell donor. Only a third of patients will find a suitable donor amongst their siblings. Parents are usually not suitable donors for their children because each child inherits half their set of genes from each parent. Consequently, more than half our stem cell transplants today are between unrelated donors.
Q: How does one sign up as a donor?
A simple buccal swab is all that’s needed to sign up to the registry. The swab is a painless way to collect DNA from the cells from a person’s cheek. The DNA information is then recorded in the registry. If you’re found to be a match to a patient, the BMDP will contact you to donate.
Q: What is the procedure for a bone marrow transplant?
If you are found to be a potential match for a patient, BMDP will contact you – possibly years after you first signed up. You will then take a blood test to confirm that you are indeed a match. If so, BMDP will arrange for a medical check-up and blood tests to ensure you are healthy to donate. The donation process can be either from a vein in your arm or from the pelvic bone; the doctor who does your medical check-up will discuss the alternatives with you. Once you have given your consent and are deemed healthy to donate, a date will be fixed for the donation, which will coincide with the transplant process in the patient The recipient will undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, making his/her blood counts fall very low in preparation to receive your blood stem cells. When these have been collected from you, they are infused into the patient through his/her vein. After around 2 to 3 weeks, these will grow into new red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets derived from you.
Q: What are the risks to a donor?
Bone marrow harvesting or peripheral blood stem cell harvesting are very safe procedures. For bone marrow harvests, the risks to the donor are mild, rare and self-limiting.
Q: Will a donor be asked to donate again after the procedure?
It is uncommon for a donor to be called on to donate to the same patient again. The instances of this being required are either because the initial collection was insufficient or the patient’s blood counts are not recovering. More commonly, it is because the patient has relapsed and may require another transplant or for a portion of the donor’s cells (called lymphocytes) to bolster his immune system to fight away cancer cells. In general, it will be safe to donate again after a period of 3 months. You will be assessed for fitness to donate, and it will strictly be on a voluntary basis should you agree to donate again
Q: What is the recovery period?
In general, after a bone marrow harvest, there will be soreness over the lower back for approximately one week. Most donors are able to walk readily the day of the harvest. For peripheral blood stem cell harvest, donors will feel tired during the days of the collection, but would recover within 1-2 days. Within 2 weeks of donation, most donors’ blood cell counts would have returned to normal. Whatever blood stem cells were donated would be regenerated by the body.
The Bone Marrow Donor Programme
8 Sinaran Drive #03-02 Novena Specialist Center Singapore 307470
Tel: (65) 6916 0370 Fax: (65) 6916 0371
Monday to Friday: 9.00 am – 6.00 pm Closed on Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays