June 2017 | Issue 30

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Students champion bone marrow donor programme

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By Marcus Teo, Class of 2021 student and LKCMedicine SGMarrow Committee President

 
Every day, six Singaporeans are diagnosed with a blood disease. Most of them die without a bone marrow transplant. Despite the ease of the procedure, the biggest hurdle is finding a suitable donor. When the odds are stacked one in 20,000 against you, the hope is that the pool of donors can be as large as possible. This is the cornerstone of Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP)’s mission.
 
Unfortunately, our society has a penchant for misunderstanding bone marrow donation. Many misconceptions surrounding the process of donation actively deter potential donors from adding their name ​to Singapore’s bone marrow donor registry. One of the biggest misconceptions is that family members are the best source for a bone marrow donor match as only siblings have a decent chance of providing a match. Even then, the chances are slim at 30 per cent.
 
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LKCMedicine students "step up to save a life" by organising bone marrow donor recruitment and awareness drives
 
SGMarrow was formed in 2015 as medical students felt the need to improve the situation here in Singapore. SGMarrow is a collaboration between the Asian Medical Students’ Association (AMSA) and BMDP, which builds and manages Singapore’s only register of volunteer bone marrow donors.
 
Every year, SGMarrow conducts at least one drive at NTU and NUS to increase the number of donors on the registry. Though the numbers are still small, youth empowerment together with public awareness and education will undoubtedly lead to a future free of stigma and misconception about bone marrow transplants.
 
In 2016 alone, two drives were conducted at NTU by LKCMedicine in collaboration with NTU Red Cross. The drives, which took place in February and October, were hosted at North Spine for two days, followed by South Spine for another day. The SGMarrow committee members led the drive while volunteers were recruited from our batch to provide the manpower needed. Some volunteers manned the booth, while others roamed around campus to convince people to register. Our hard work paid off handsomely as we managed to collect 600 swabs in total.
 
In recognition of our efforts, SGMarrow and its representatives were invited to the annual “Celebration of Heroes” on 19 April 2017. The event held at the School of the Arts’ Drama Theatre celebrated the altruism of 18 individual donors, honouring them for their donations. The patron of BMDP, Minister for Home Affairs and Law Mr K Shanmugam, said at the event, “We celebrate those who have come forward without expecting a benefit, other than making a huge difference in someone else's life. It is the real spirit of giving.” The highlight of the event was the surprise patient-donor meeting of eight-year-old Ryssa and donor Phil Tan.
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Heidi and I accept the Partner of the Year award from Minister for Home Affairs & Law Mr K Shanmugam on behalf of SGMarrow
 
This year, our organisation, SGMarrow, received the honour of being awarded Partner of the Year for our efforts. Heidi Kang and myself collected the awards on behalf of both NUS and NTU. We were privileged to have received it and would like to thank our volunteers in the School for making this possible.
 
This year, the drive will be held in August and we hope we will be able to once again increase the numbers of donors in the registry substantially. Join the registry today and if possible, volunteer to help out in this extremely meaningful programme. Be a hero, save a life.