Man saved by rare bone marrow match

PHOTO: Man saved by rare bone marrow match

Indonesian Ivan Wijaya received the best wedding anniversary gift last year: a new lease of life.

Earlier that year, he was diagnosed with leukaemia, or cancer of the blood cells, and he and his wife Ledy had to put plans for a baby on hold.

"My world was turned upside down in a second," the 29-year- old said. "We wanted to start a family, but I didn't know if I could live till the next year."

To make matters worse, the former operations manager suffered from a more complex form of leukaemia, which needed strong doses of chemotherapy. Treatment at hospitals in Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur did not help.

Desperate to get treated, Mr Ivan came to Singapore's National University Hospital in July last year. He also sought a donor from Singapore's registry of bone marrow donors.

Though chances of a match were low - one in 20,000 - Mr Ivan got a call bearing good news within months.

"I said 'What? So quickly? Can this be true?'" he said, breaking into a smile. "It was really a miracle."

So Mr Ivan spent his second wedding anniversary, Oct 9, in the high dependency ward, getting the transplant.

Yesterday, he met his donor, Ms Yow Enning, 28, for the first time. Mr Ivan told her: "You are the reason I am standing here today. I can't thank you enough for saving my life."

This year, local bone marrow donors like Ms Yow have saved at least 19 patients, 13 of whom are from Singapore.

A total of 48,000 people have signed up to be bone marrow donors locally. But as matches are rare, it is hardly enough to fulfil the 50 local and international requests that the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP)) receives each month, said the charity's president, Ms Jane Prior.

Ms Yow had signed up to be a bone marrow donor at a school drive in 2006. Last year, when she got a call from BMDP, she had no qualms about donating.

"I felt like I had struck the charity lottery," said the communications manager, who donates blood regularly. "It is such a rare chance to save a life, so why not?"

Bone marrow contains stem cells and it is these stem cells that patients need to save their lives.

First, Ms Yow did a blood test to confirm the match. Then, she visited the National Cancer Centre four times to get hormone injections, which would stimulate her bone marrow to produce more stem cells. Finally, she spent six hours strapped to a machine to donate these stem cells.

"It was relatively painless and I played computer games at the same time," she said.

"Not everyone would have the money to start their own charity foundation. But at least I can look back and say 'Yes, I have helped save a life.'"

This article was first published on Nov 15, 2014.
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