8-year-old patient surprises her bone marrow donor at their first meeting

Eight-year-old Ryssa giving a hug to her bone marrow donor Phil Tan, on April 19, 2017.
Eight-year-old Ryssa giving a hug to her bone marrow donor Phil Tan, on April 19, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - It was a bone marrow match that defied the odds of one in 20,000 - not once, but twice.

Just months after his first match fell through when the patient withdrew from treatment, Mr Phil Tan, 27, was again identified as a suitable bone marrow donor for another patient.

His donation saved the life of eight-year-old Ryssa, who was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called Myelodysplastic Syndrome about three years ago. Both met for the first time on Wednesday (April 19). Ryssa received the transplant just before her seventh birthday.

Mr Tan was one of 22 Singaporeans who were honoured by Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam for saving the life of a patient through the donation of their bone marrow.

"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," said Mr Shanmugam, who is a patron of the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP).

Bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant is the best treatment option for patients diagnosed with blood diseases such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

At any one time, there are at least 50 patients waiting to find a matching donor.

Siblings of the patient are the first options for a donation, as they have a one in four chance of DNA compatibility for a transplant.

When that fails, the next option would be a match with a volunteer donor registered in the BMDP.

To date, more than 75,000 volunteers have joined the BMDP register, which records the genetic type of each person.

Since 2015, more than 50 Singaporeans have donated their bone marrow to patients in Singapore and overseas, including in the United States, Britain, Canada and France.

The BMDP, which was set up in 1993, aims to increase the size of the local donor register by another 50,000 by next year.