Dim Sum (UK) – Could you save Carolyn’s life?

Could you save Carolyn’s life?

Monday, 21 July 2008
On a normal Monday in November 2006 Carolyn Tam went for a routine annual check-up. She had the usual blood tests and then carried on with her day-to-day life. However within three days her doctor was calling her, telling her to come back to the hospital the next morning and to go straight to the emergency room if she felt nauseous. As a healthy young woman her initial reaction was “why?!” She told friends not to worry as she could cope with anything as long as it wasn’t cancer.     

It was.  

The following morning, after more tests, Carolyn was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. Like most of us, she admits she wasn’t entirely aware of what this meant or the diseases’ symptoms. She describes the moment on her website “it sounds stupid now, but it didn’t even register with me that Princess Margaret is a cancer hospital. Then the doctor had just told me that I had cancer. I mean, this all happened within 3 days! It wasn’t until I went to the internet after the phone call that I started to freak out… I was afraid I would just die in my sleep that night.”  

Carolyn went on to fight against her cancer through various treatments, including chemotherapy, leading to her leukaemia going into remission, but this April she was told the leukaemia had resurfaced and this time she need a bone marrow transplant.  

The terrible thing about a bone marrow transplant is that your own family members have a 70% chance of not being a suitable donor, so a sufferer’s search usually has to be broadened. Worldwide about 12 million people are registered on various databases as being possible bone marrow donors, of which approximately 1million are of Chinese ethnicity.  

A match in ethnicity gives the donor a better chance of being a match, especially those with the surname Tam or Lau. So of course straightaway Carolyn’s doctor went to search family records and the world database. There was no match. This spurred Carolyn’s family into action, her mother and brother immediately flew to her home in Canada from Hong Kong. Then the search began in earnest, to look for a suitable donor who could save Carolyn’s life. 

She and her mother have been canvassing her current home, Canada whereas her brother has taken on the formidable task of informing the rest of the world. I spoke to him in Hong Kong about his main resource for searching for a donor,www.savecarolyn.com. “Now I’m looking at this globally. Sure we can focus on how many people proportionately are registered in each country, but I’m focusing on getting as many people as possible registered in the world.” 

As we know, Patrick has a higher probability of finding a match within the Chinese community so he has concentrated his search there. Nevertheless, the poor response has surprised him, yet the case has been well publicised in Canada.  

“Here in Hong Kong it’s a more Chinese dominated society so people are seemingly more indifferent. I would imagine in Hong Kong there are more Chinese people so we would get a better response, but so far this is not the case.”  

Patrick even has some local celebrities backing his campaign, including Sammi Cheng and Karen Mok, but still the response has been lukewarm. The situation is similar in the UK with the Chinese registry rate being significantly lower proportionately than the amount of Chinese people in the country. According to the Anthony Nolan trust of the 395,000 people registered, only 1156 are of Oriental ethnicity.  

Despite this Patrick refuses to be negative: “the overseas Chinese in the UK can play a big role in raising awareness in the Chinese community. We just need one match, nothing more”. Also in the UK there is a restriction on giving blood if you are only living in the UK for a certain period, however this does not apply to potential bone marrow donors.

When you speak to Patrick you can feel the determination emanating from the man and I wanted to know how he manages to stay positive. “From the first day of this website we realised this isn’t just about Carolyn now, it’s about anyone in need. By expanding the worldwide register we might be saving someone else’s life today. I’ve learned a lot, and what we realised by doing this website is that there is actually a lot of love in this world. There are so many people who have extended their helping hand, sometimes you think they may care more than you do.” 

Nevertheless Patrick remains realistic because, more increasingly, time is of the essence. According to the Hong Kong Red Cross, a patient with a common type of tissue has a 1 in 2000 chance of finding a match. Yet a patient with rare tissue has only a 1 in 100,000 chance of finding a match. Unfortunately Carolyn has a rare tissue type, therefore this means that the search for a donor takes on even greater importance.  

As a result Patrick and Dimsum now call on the Chinese community to take action and join the registry list. Patrick confessed “We recently celebrated Carolyn’s birthday with her in Canada. We don’t like to say it but part of us is fearful it might be her last. This is why our work is so important now. To be honest we don’t mind if people don’t know how we feel, all we want is people to take action and get registered.” 

To get registered or involved, click here or call 020 7284 123 
Get registered, get a friend to get registered or organise a local drive – anything will help.

Dimsum also highlighted Kitty Cheung’s search for a donor in 2004. For further information, please visithttp://www.anthonynolan.org.uk/ or http://www.savecarolyn.com/ , as you could save a life today.


One Response

  1. THANKS to prople at DimSum for lending a helping hand to us.


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