Save someone's life today - become a stem cell donor!

By James Singh Kumar

I first heard about the stem cell donor register back in 2013 as news of 2-year-old Gaurav Bains needing a match started to circulate on my social media as I was procrastinating from revision. At the time I was leading a social enterprise at school about raising awareness of cancer in ethnic minority communities. As part of this, I invited Anthony Nolan to come into our school to give a talk about stem cell donation and getting people on the register. As a school where Asians compromised nearly 50% of the student body, I thought it was a great opportunity to get more ethnic minorities on to the register. I was a bit apprehensive that I was going to have mine & the school’s besti done as roughly 300 rowdy lads filled the hall whilst this 3ft bachari aunty tried to shout over them. But as soon as they listened to what she had to say they all fell silent and quickly grabbed spit kits to provide samples for the register on their way out.

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It was this spark that also hit me back in 2013 – I genuinely could not comprehend why everyone was not on the register. I can understand that people may have hesitations when it comes to the organ donor register. However, for stem cell donation, in 90% of matches stem cells are harvested in a blood-test-like procedure – so no operation is involved (now I had the image of fooling all Punjabis into donating by telling them their sugar is low and the doctor needs to take a blood test).

In the past couple of years, there have been a couple of high-profile cases of Indians who need stem cell matches. It was great because it was what inspired thousands of Indians to join the register. I remember going tile shopping on a Saturday as you do (I know 21 is such a wild age) and I saw Gurav Bains’ dad – my reaction was as if he was a celebrity but when I started to think about the significance of my reaction I smiled to myself. Because of the hard work the Bains’ family went through when their son, I recognised him in this shop (and probably looked like a right weirdo staring at him as he didn’t know who the hell I was) and because of their campaign I was now on the register and campaigning for other people to join the register too.

But there’s also a sadness to this too in that when his son needed help he could not get it straight away. The Bains case was very much a pioneering case putting the issue on the map for Sikhs but now it’s our duty as Sikhs to respond. The fact that 4% of the register is made of BAME people is quite worrying. More worryingly, tomorrow, if one our family members or friends needed a match, they’d have a 20% chance of finding one in comparison to 60% if they were white. This is where our panthic duty comes in. God forbid one of our family members ever need a match but if they did we should rejoice in the knowledge that a match will be found because our community has done everything they can and stepped up. As a panth, we should sign ourselves up and campaign for this sort of thing not just when it affects us so that the day we need a match we get it instantly and our families don’t have to tirelessly campaign up and down the country, instead they can spend their precious time with their loved one.

So as Sikh Societies what can we do? We have a platform and we need to use it for good. We know at our Meet & Greet and Langar on Campus we are going to engage with a couple of hundred students so use this as a platform to extend our seva. In Leicester’s case, I joined the committee in my second year as a Charity Co-ordinator keen to make a difference and boost our charity initiatives. I hastily contacted Anthony Nolan for them to send us out spit kits we could distribute at our Meet & Greet. The event went well and we got about 15-20 people on the register then later in the year this happened (ignore my cha insults). From there, our relationship with Anthony Nolan blossomed and I discovered they have society on campus called Marrow which effectively are like a mini-Anthony Nolan. From there, things got even easier as I just had to invite them to our big events and they would have a stall in the corner doing their own thing.

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Since giving a similar talk at the BOSS Leadership Day last year I have been so pleased to see Sikh Socs up and down the country engage with their local Marrow equivalents and invite them to their big events. Without knowing, even if you are adding just one person to the register, you are help saving lives and making it easier for someone to find a match. I would encourage you to get in contact with your University’s Marrow Society and invite them to your big events they’re keen to get people on the register and I know some Unions also give rewards for Society collaborations.

All jokes aside though, in all seriousness, the process to harvest stem cells is relatively pain-free and simple. Therefore, there should be no excuses for why people are not on the register. It’s our duty as Sikhs to help others so establish your place in the panth by making your contribution to it and help save someone’s life.

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