Young woman donates bone marrow to total stranger

Ariel Lam signed up as a donor to help a friend but ended up helping a man she has never met

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 January, 2014, 10:48am
UPDATED : Saturday, 04 January, 2014, 2:49am

Ariel Lam Yi-tak, 23, had almost forgotten that she signed on to the bone-marrow registry when she was told last year that her sample was a potential match for a total stranger.

The young woman struggled with her choices. She had joined the registry in 2012 meaning to help a leukaemia-afflicted friend, but was then told that she was not a suitable match. Now, faced with a painful procedure and potential complications just to help a stranger out, she feared the pain might be too much to bear.

But in the end, she decided to go ahead with further tests and, if suitable, a donation.

“I’m like a housewife -- a good bargain makes me happy,” she said, laughing. “If I could bear some pain for maybe a week in exchange for someone’s chance of survival, isn’t that a great bargain?”

She was very surprised when doctors told her she was a 100 per cent match with the patient, a one-in-10,000 chance.

“God knows I couldn’t escape from it,” she said.

Her recipient was a man with leukaemia. His condition had been fluctuating and the transplant was called off and on. It was finally completed recently and doctors say the patient is recovering well.

Despite her fears, fuelled by friends who said the pain would be severe, Lam found the four-hour procedure was not as bad as she had expected.

“I had to sleep on my side for only that night,” she said. “It was not exactly painful, more like soreness.”

Lam, who is studying for a postgraduate diploma in education, joined the marrow registry in 2012 when a friend from church, Liu Chi-ki, 39, who had leukaemia, asked for help. About 100 people from the church signed up but none of them matched Liu’s tissue type. He later found a match from Taiwan.

Then the registry called her in May last year, telling her that she was a preliminary match for a patient.

“I couldn’t decide whether or not I should go for further testing. If I went, there may be no turning back. So I thought ‘maybe I won’t get into it, so I won’t have to think about it any more’,” she said.

But then one of her friends encouraged her by telling her she would be a blessing to others. So she went ahead.

The patient’s condition deteriorated and doctors said he might not be able to go through a transplant. They had to wait and see whether he would improve, but Lam was going to leave Hong Kong for seven weeks for a study programme in the UK.

The doctors at first called off the transplant but then asked Lam to give her marrow before leaving and they would store it. She agreed, even though there was a chance the patient in the end would not use it.

Now she’s glad she did it.

“It’s the most meaningful thing I have done in my life so far. If I’m asked to give my bone marrow once more I’ll do it. It helped not only the patient but also his family.”