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!
Like most of us, I never imagined that life could ever go wrong apart from the odd business challenge thrown my way, but then a really good friend connected to say that she needed a bone marrow transplant. It was a real eye-opener and the least I could do was race down to the address she shared for the BMDP office and get myself onto the register.
I always thought it was a long drawn-out and painful process – but in reality the entire process of form-filling and getting my cheek swabbed took only a few minutes. But it didn’t end there, this is a long-term commitment to donating my bone marrow in the future if ever there is a patient who is a match to me.
Talking with the BMDP team, I found out how expensive it is to send the swab kits for the laboratory tests – tissue typing – and so beyond just signing up, I wanted to see how TAB could assist in fund-raising and creating awareness. Why? Because the BMDP is playing a crucial role in actually saving the lives of patients – just like my friend – and like me, most people simply don’t realise how little it takes to really make a difference. People need to know what it takes to become a donor and how their small act today may save somebody’s life.
There are people out there who desperately need our help to find a match and I believe if it is within our power to help, we must definitely do so. A huge thank you to our bands who are helping out in this great cause and I invite you to attend our second anniversary celebration to help us in furthering the BMDP’s cause of expanding the local register. We’re going to have a great big party with lots of local bands. So, see you guys, it’s going to be a blast!
Our October campaign has a new name – Match for Life – which we feel is a better representation of the work that we do and the vital role that all of our volunteer donors play when they are a “match” and they can actually save a “life”.
Watch out for more details on the BMDP’s inaugural 30 day campaign as we reach out to as many companies and organisations throughout October to tell their staff what it takes to be a bone marrow donor. Just a few moments to learn about our work and sign up and a commitment for the future, that they will make that life-saving donation of bone marrow or stem cells to save the life of someone, somewhere; should they be that “Match for Life”…
And with 6 people every day diagnosed with a blood disease here in Singapore, that “someone” could be much closer than you think.
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.
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
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.
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