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→
Donating bone marrow or blood? Crossed my mind once during National Service when it meant getting the rest of the day off. Since then, I’ve never thought about it again.
Fast forward 17 years and pursuing my dreams halfway across the world, donating my bone marrow couldn’t be further from my mind but the world changed for our family in October 2012. Back in Singapore, Dad was diagnosed with a low platelet count, his lymphoma having re-emerged after a 27-year remission and he urgently needed a transfusion. By the time he passed away in January 2013, he had at least 10 platelet and blood transfusions, thanks to anonymous donors.
Fate dealt another brutal blow that month when my youngest brother, William was diagnosed with leukaemia just two weeks before Dad passed away. It seemed so unfair and not supposed to happen to someone so young! William’s only 24 and starting his life.
We had spent the previous months shuttling between Singapore and the United States to visit our parents and now one of us needed help, and urgently. Mum stayed in Singapore to care for Dad and Marvin and I flew to Los Angeles where William was in good spirits but needed several blood transfusions because of his low red blood cell count.
Dad and William benefited from the generosity of total strangers who had voluntarily donated blood and platelets and we were uncomfortably aware that we’d never done anything like that. Medicine can be manufactured, but blood, platelets and bone marrow can only be donated by healthy individuals who volunteer out of kindness. William is in remission now after a month of chemotherapy, but he still needs a bone marrow transplant if he’s to win his battle against leukaemia.
The last few months forced us to take a long hard look at our priorities and we realise that the kindness of strangers is what brings hope to humanity and our shared fate shows how everyone has a part to play.
Marvin and I have since signed up to be bone marrow donors and we intend to be regular blood donors. Countless families have been granted more time together due to the selflessness of these unsung heroes and we hope that telling our story and spreading the message through friends and family will be able to move a few hearts and minds to support a worthy cause.
With the chance of a match between a patient and donor being only 1 in 20,000, the search for that one life-saving individual frequently goes worldwide. The BMDP reached another milestone this week when we provided our first match from a local donor for a patient in South Africa. Continue reading Life-saving Gift from Singapore to South Africa→
Thank you to everyone who has worked with us over the past months – signing up, organising donor drives and sharing the BMDP mission with friends and colleagues that everyone has “the power to save a life”.
With your support we reached our 2012 target TODAY with 5,000 new donors all signed up to the BMDP register bringing us several steps closer to delivering on our promise to find a donor for every patient.
Aven Lim, Business Analyst from Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals was our 5,000th donor for the year – and he got first-hand congratulations from another new donor, Marcus Yim, MD of Bayer South ASEAN.
Many thanks to Bayer for hosting today’s event and also for generously sponsoring the cost of tissue typing each of your staff who signed up. Also, thank you again to all our other partners who have supported the Match For Life campaign over recent months; from the universities and polytechnics, the global and local partners – none if this would have been possible without your belief, encouragement and buy-in to our cause.
CONGRATULATIONS to all our Match For Life team and our extended family of BMDP donors. Roll on 2013 – another target and more lives to save.
The past weeks have been absolutely hectic – donor drives happening in companies and carnivals, schools and government departments from the city centre to Jurong Island! Our logo has strutted on the catwalk with Elite Model Look and now our team of Marathon Men and Women are pounding the pavements to raise funds and awareness.
Our very own crazy man, Ah Siao is on a mission to drag a tyre throughout the full 42 kilometres of the Singapore Marathon. In his words, a tribute to our patients who have to struggle every day – for months sometimes – managing their treatment and waiting for the good news that we have found them a match.
And all this noise and effort have delivered some significant success. Thanks to all our various partners, we recruited 1338 new donors during “Match for Life” in October bringing the year-to-date total up to 4089 putting us in sight of our annual target of 5,000. So, if you have friends or colleagues who want to become a bone marrow donor, then get them to Sign Up for a postal kit and we’ll do the rest.
Meanwhile, we need your help to share our work with people you know by ‘liking’ us on Facebook to stay in touch with all the things we are doing. After all, the BMDP is one huge family united by a single mission to save lives – but like Ah Siao, there are lots of us doing crazy things out there so let us know what’s happening in your world and we’ll share it with the rest of the gang… make more noise, save more lives.
“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.
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.
TheBone Marrow Donor Programme has been selected as the charity partner for Elite Model Look when the world’s leading model search event conducts an island-wide search for Singapore’s new “face”.
With a line-up of 6 events happening over the next five weeks, “Match For Life” (the donor recruitment organisation within the BMDP) will connect with hundreds of young people providing them with a chance to sign up as a volunteer bone marrow donor.
According to BMDP President, Jane Prior, “modeling and bone marrow transplants seem to be worlds apart, but we are both working against very similar odds. Elite Model Look will select just 15 finalists out of a global line-up of 350,000 entrants – while the chances of being a match for a patient are around 1 in 20,000.00. While we can’t offer fame and fortune, our donors sign up for a chance to win the greatest prize of all – to save another person’s life.”
Match For Life will be on-site at all the Elite Model Look Singapore events and while waiting to audition, aspiring models will have an opportunity to learn more about the life-saving work of the BMDP and to sign up as a “Match for Life” and become a volunteer bone marrow donor. There is strong medical evidence to support younger donors being more effective and most importantly they are available through the BMDP register for longer as the cut-off age is currently age 60.
According to the Singapore Director of Elite Model Look, Eric Ceret, “this is a first time that Elite Model Look has tied up with a non-profit organization anywhere in Asia and I am excited that we have found great synergy between ourselves and Match For Life. The world of the Supermodel must go beyond the superficial and I am proud that leading Elite models, including Gisele Bundchen and Cindy Crawford, are very well known for their charity work. This partnership is a statement that with success comes responsibility”.
Match For Life targets to recruit 3,000 new donors onto the BMDP Register throughout October in order to increase the chances of finding that life-saving donor for every patient who needs a transplant. A volunteer donor needs to provide a small tissue sample – usually a swab from inside the cheek – that is sent for tissue typing to then add the details to the BMDP register. Only if and when identified as a match in the future for a patient does the donor actually have to donate their bone marrow but with the odds of finding a match being 1 in 20,000, each new name that is added is potentially another life saved. In Singapore every day 6 people are diagnosed with one of the potentially fatal blood diseases where the only chance of survival may be a successful bone marrow transplant.
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