He survives leukaemia thanks to donor
Leukaemia was this young man's constant shadow as he journeyed from shock to despair. But thanks to a bone marrow donor he did not know, that shadow has been dispelled by a ray of hope
When he was 10 years old, he thought that he had caught a common cold when he returned to Singapore from a family holiday in Indonesia in 2008.
He had a fever of 38 deg C and he felt weak.
He also lost his appetite and was not able to take part in physical activities because he was sick.
But Reza Ramadhan, now 17, did not have just a common cold. His sickness was the start of a two-year battle with leukaemia.
Reza visited a polyclinic thrice in two months and was given the same medicine to take on each visit.
But the fever persisted.
On his fourth visit to the polyclinic, he was referred to the National University Hospital (NUH). A blood test was done and he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
The football player, who was on his school football team at Blangah Rise Primary School, had to defer his studies for two years because of his illness and he could not play football as his body was too weak.
"I didn't know what was going on because I was so young back then," he said.
"But I just believed that I would be able to play football once again."
Leukaemia took a toll on Reza as he was in and out of NUH for chemotherapy sessions for seven months.
He went through chemotherapy once every three days and the length of each session differed. The shorter sessions lasted for four to seven hours while the longer ones required him to stay overnight in the hospital for two or three days.
"It was very tough for me because of the side effects of chemotherapy. I had headaches, felt nauseated and couldn't have proper meals," said Reza.
He also lost the hair on his head as well as his eyebrows and eyelashes because of the chemotherapy.
"When I went out, people would look at me weirdly - even my neighbours.
"It affected me and I didn't feel like going out any more because I had no confidence," said Reza.
Mr Alwee Che Daud, Reza's father, said that there was a point when Reza told him that he felt like giving up on his life because he thought that he was not able to play football any more because of his illness.
The 53-year-old security officer said: "I was so sad to see him in that state and my heart ached because Reza's so young.
"But I had to tell him not to worry and that the doctors will do their best to help him."
Mr Alwee recalled having to shuttle between NUH and his workplace in Hill Street then and being on alternate shifts with his wife to care for Reza in the hospital.
"The hospital was my second home," Mr Alwee said with a laugh.
Reza's survival depended on a bone marrow transplant. The best chance of a match is your sibling. Unfortunately, neither of Reza's brothers, aged 10 and 19, nor any of his other family members was a match.
Just as Reza was on the brink of giving up, the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) managed to find a match in July 2009.
The donor, Ms Grace Tong, 31, a manager at a financial service company, did not know Reza.
Finding a suitable match is a one in 20,000 chance and it is even more rare for there to be a match between people of different ethnicities.
Ms Tong was a first-year student in Singapore Management University when she joined the bone marrow donor register.
She said: "I went to support a friend's leadership and team building project and they were doing a road show for BMDP.
"I thought it was some preparation for blood donation then.
"When I got the call from BMDP, I was surprised that I was a match for a recipient. I decided to donate as I knew I would be saving a life."
Ms Tong's parents were initially concerned, but because she was already an adult, they let her make her own decision.
The transplant took place in September 2009 and she was hospitalised overnight.
"My bone marrow was obtained through the back of my pelvic bone, using a special needle," said Ms Tong.
"I had general anaesthetic so I did not feel any pain during the whole procedure."
"I even attended the Singapore F1 Grand Prix shortly after I was discharged as I didn't feel any pain after the procedure - I only felt uncomfortable.
"I feel there is nothing better than to save a person's life if it is within our means."
That bone marrow transplant meant a second chance at life for Reza.
He spent a month in hospital and resumed his regular routine after he was discharged.
Upon full recovery, the first thing he wanted to do was to go back to school, make new friends and play football once more.
He is now in Queenstown Secondary School and will be taking his N-level exams next year.
Reza said: "I know it's challenging to donate your bone marrow to a stranger, but I would urge those who are not on the register to think of other people who have family members who are sick, and give them a second chance to live.
"What BMDP is doing is great as they're spreading awareness about blood-related diseases.
"I'm thankful to Grace and to my parents as well.
"I appreciate them for taking care of me when I was sick and I know I gave them a lot to worry about.
"But I treasure life even more now."
When I went out, people would look at me weirdly - even my neighbours.
- Reza Ramadhan
When I got the call from BMDP, I was surprised that I was a match for a recipient. I decided to donate as I knew I would be saving a life.
- Bone marrow donor Grace Tong
HOW TO REGISTER
Visit www.bmdp.org to be placed on the register. Anyone between the ages of 17 and 49 can sign up as a bone marrow donor.
Donors need to be in good health and can apply online for a kit to be sent to you to do a cheek swab and fill in a form.
Test results will be entered into the register.
You will be asked to donate bone marrow only if you are found to be a match for a patient.
MORE BONE MARROW DONORS NEEDED
The Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) manages Singapore's only register of volunteer bone marrow donors and its aim is to save lives through transplants.
BMDP has 52,000 donors on its register and more donors are needed, especially from minority groups.
It hopes to have 17,000 new donors each year to reach its target of 50,000 new donors by 2019, in order to attain a donor for every patient whose life depends on it.
Ms Elise Lee, assistant manager of the donor recruitment team in BMDP, said: "We appeal to the public to donate because it's a chance for patients to continue living and no family would be complete if one passes away."
BY THE NUMBERS
The number of Singaporeans diagnosed with a blood disease each day
Leukaemia is the most common type of cancer in children under this age and more children die from leukaemia every year than from any other illnesses.
The number of transplants facilitated in the first nine months of this year by the Bone Marrow Donor Programme for over 50 types of blood-related diseases
There are at least this number of patients waiting to find a matching donor at any one time.
The percentage of minority races on the Bone Marrow Donor Programme registry, which makes it much harder for patients from these races to find a matching bone marrow donor.
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