Doctor turns bone marrow donor
Radiation oncologist among those honoured for their life-saving acts
In his 11 years as a radiation oncologist, Dr Ivan Tham has often seen patients in need of bone marrow transplants.
Their pain left an indelible mark on the 42-year-old, prompting him to sign up for the Bone Marrow Donor Programme (BMDP) six years ago.
The decision came naturally, but he didn't expect to be a match for a patient, Dr Tham told The New Paper at the BMDP's Celebration of Heroes event on Wednesday.
"I never thought I would be called, I actually forgot I was in the registry," he said.
Two years ago, he was found to be a match. "I see patients with leukaemia. (The transplant) is the only treatment that can save their lives. It's a life-saving act," he said.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, the BMDP's patron, was at the event to present 48 bone marrow donors with their awards for showing "extraordinary volunteerism" and saving lives.
There are two methods of transplant - extraction from the pelvic bone under general anaesthesia and peripheral blood stem cell donation, which is like a blood donation procedure and is performed more often.
Dr Tham did the latter and had to inject himself with granulocyte colony-stimulating factor drugs daily for four days before the collection, to increase the number of blood stem cells in his bloodstream.
"It was my first time injecting myself. It was actually quite uncomfortable because the bone marrow swelled, so I felt a constant body ache," he said.
Nonetheless, the act of saving a life mades it all worthwhile and he added that he would not hesitate to donate again before he hits 49, the maximum age to donate. The minimum age to donate is 17.
"Curing leukaemia is a great medical achievement as it's almost always fatal. So to be able to offer a good chance of a cure is nothing short of a medical miracle," he said.
BMDP chief executive Jane Prior said: "It's always particularly rewarding when medical professionals join our programme, because they clearly have full understanding of the process, validating our message that donating bone marrow is a safe and routine procedure that can save lives."
To find out more about bone marrow donation and the BMDP, visit www.bmdp.org