Celebrating the real spirit of giving

Mr Phil Tan met Ryssa and her family - mother Doris Tia, 42, and brothers Kieran (back to camera) and Kaiser - yesterday. The children are eight-year-old triplets, and Mr Tan's bone marrow saved Ryssa's life.
Mr Phil Tan met Ryssa and her family - mother Doris Tia, 42, and brothers Kieran (back to camera) and Kaiser - yesterday. The children are eight-year-old triplets, and Mr Tan's bone marrow saved Ryssa's life.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

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 bone marrow saved the life of eight-year-old Ryssa, who was diagnosed with a rare blood disease called myelodysplastic syndrome about three years ago. She received the transplant just before her seventh birthday.

Ryssa and her two brothers surprised Mr Tan yesterday during their first meeting organised by the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) at the School of the Arts. Most donors and patients who are matched for a bone marrow transplant do not meet for several reasons including that of privacy.

Mr Tan, who was initially at a loss for words, said: "I'm really, really glad I could do something for her."

He was one of 22 Singaporeans 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 BMDP.

Bone marrow, or blood stem cell, transplant is the best treatment option for patients diagnosed with blood diseases, such as leukaemia and lymphoma. Without a transplant, many of them die. At any one time, at least 50 patients here are waiting to find a matching donor.

Siblings of the patient have a one in four chance of being a compatible donor. But if that option fails, the next step would be getting matched to a volunteer registered with the BMDP.

In Ryssa's case, her brothers were not suitable matches. Her doctor then approached the BMDP, which found a suitable donor in Mr Tan.

To date, more than 75,000 volunteers have joined the BMDP register, which records a person's genetic type through a cheek swab.

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

Charmaine Ng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Celebrating the real spirit of giving'. Print Edition | Subscribe