Poonam, a stem cell donor, is marking Diwali by urging others to join the DKMS register to bring the light of hope into blood cancer patients’ darkest hours.
“It's vital to remember the alarming statistics: every 20 minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with blood cancer. This underscores the urgent need for more donors, especially from underrepresented ethnic minority backgrounds. I'd willingly go through the stem cell process again, knowing it could potentially offer someone a second chance at life. As Diwali celebrations begin, I extend a heartfelt appeal to join the stem cell register.”
Poonam Shah, a mother of two young daughters, is from Milton Keynes and works as Head of Technology Operations for a motorway services provider. In April 2020, she donated her stem cells.
“I started my DKMS journey by joining their stem cell register in July 2018,” Poonam explains. “I’d been really moved by the story of little Kaiya Patel, a young leukaemia patient and stem cell recipient who continues to inspire countless others to join the cause. The process of registering was simple - a mouth swab, a form, and a commitment.
“After learning I was a potential match for someone, in March 2020 – as the world grappled with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic – I underwent medical tests, braving any fears I might have for the chance to potentially save a life. I needn’t have worried, DKMS’ support was seamless throughout, and the doctors and nurses who guided me through the process were nothing short of heroes.
“Following the medical evaluation, I started four days of daily injections to prepare my body for the impending stem cell donation. These G-CSF (Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor) injections serve the crucial purpose of boosting white blood cell production and coaxing the release of stem cells into the bloodstream, making them readily accessible for collection.
“Then my stem cells were collected in April 2020 in London, over the space of two days. It was a life-changing journey, but it wasn’t over. In August 2020, I also donated lymphocytes. Although the patient didn't require them in the end, knowing my cells remain frozen for future use brings me a sense of fulfilment.”
On rare occasions, stem cell donors like Poonam may also be asked to donate lymphocytes. These cells, formed in the bone marrow, are responsible for fighting pathogens and killing off cancer cells. If given by infusion to a patient after a stem cell transplant, lymphocytes can recognise and destroy leukaemia cells. In addition, virus-specific T cells can prevent some of the life-threatening infections that can occur after a patient has received a stem cell transplant.
“My keenness to support DKMS’ work became even more personal about a year after I had donated, when a young family member was diagnosed with blood cancer. Then, meeting my recipient in person earlier this year was a profound experience – witnessing his journey to recovery post-transplant,” continues Poonam. “I don’t think I truly understood the impact of becoming a donor until then. For his family and loved ones, this was the difference between end-of-life care and a second chance at life.
“None of this would have been possible without the tireless dedication of DKMS. For Diwali, the festival of light, let's all continue to spread awareness and encourage more individuals to join the stem cell register; a simple act that can make an immeasurable difference. By joining, you may become someone’s light during dark times.