Dedicated to raising awareness of the work of DKMS in the UK, Gilly explains why he became a volunteer with DKMS and what DKMS means to him.
Location: Lives in Kempston, Bedfordshire, with his parents but has his own house rented out.
Occupation: Shift manager for DHL Logistics. Volunteer with DKMS Bedford.
Hopes for 2023, current hopes:
In 2023, my aspirations are to remain healthy and find joy in my life, and I extend these same desires to others. Additionally, I aim to raise awareness in my local community, particularly among Asians, about the shortage of bone marrow donors from ethnic minorities on the national register.
Looking ahead, my ultimate objective would be to establish a system where everyone is automatically registered on the stem cell register at birth and given the option to opt-out later in their teenage years. Obviously, I won’t be able to complete this task alone, but would like to have some sort of contribution towards it.
What amusing or interesting phrase do you think the initials DKMS could stand for in English?:
Donating Kindness and Making (a difference) to Someone’s life.
To me, DKMS represents a community of individuals who share a common goal of spreading awareness to find compatible donors for patients in need. Volunteering for this organisation gives me a sense of purpose and fulfilment, as it allows me to actively contribute to a cause that is deeply important to me. Ultimately, I hope that through our collective efforts, we can prevent other families from experiencing the same challenges that my own family has faced.
In April 2019, as part of my 40-day mission to perform good deeds, I registered with the stem cell register, which is where I met Poonam, the team lead for DKMS's Bedford volunteer hub. Given my long-standing desire to contribute to charitable causes, I enquired with Poonam about joining the team.
Furthermore, my brother and I serve as coaches for a local football team, Meltis Rangers. At the time, the under-12 squad was seeking a shirt sponsor, and we suggested that they use DKMS. Rather than asking for funds, our goal was to publicise and raise awareness for the organisation.
My brother Amardeep was affected. In March 2021, Amardeep began experiencing fatigue and exhaustion following a light jog with his daughter. These symptoms persisted for several days, prompting him to seek medical attention at a hospital. After conducting blood tests, doctors discovered that his platelet count was low, and they administered platelets before discharging him.
However, Amardeep experienced similar symptoms just a few days later. At our friend's recommendation (who happens to be a GP), he underwent further testing, as he thought that these symptoms were indicative of leukaemia or lymphoma. After a bone biopsy, it was confirmed that Amardeep had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
Amardeep, having previously worked at Addenbrooke's Hospital, opted to receive treatment there after his diagnosis in April 2021. He responded positively to his chemotherapy sessions, and his cancer levels had dropped to an extent that even some of his neighbours were unaware of his condition.
A stem cell donor match was identified - a 23-year-old woman from Germany with a 90% compatibility rate. I was considered a 50% match and was set to serve as a backup donor.
However, in September 2021, his cancer returned, requiring an increase in his chemotherapy sessions. Towards the end of October, he was preparing to undergo a final and intense chemotherapy session prior to his stem cell transplant. Unfortunately, he developed sepsis on 3 November 2021, while receiving the final chemo blast.
Amardeep was forced, with his severely weakened immune system, to battle both the aggressive cancer and sepsis simultaneously. Despite a valiant effort to hold on, Amardeep passed away on 3 December 2021.
In my opinion, there are several approaches to accomplishing this goal. One possibility is to create awareness campaigns aimed at educating individuals about the significance of registering as a stem cell donor and the difference it can make in the lives of others.
Social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok, popular among younger audiences, can be employed to launch such campaigns, or partnerships can be established with organisations like schools, universities, and other community groups to encourage participation in stem cell donor registration or volunteering for the cause.
It would be advantageous for DKMS to become more involved in events like the London Marathon, allowing teams to collaborate with other charities while also setting up donor drives and reaching a large audience.
Since joining the Bedford team, I have only had the opportunity to volunteer on a few donor drives, but I found them incredibly fulfilling and a catalyst for my personal growth.
Volunteering for DKMS has offered me the chance to acquire new skills and knowledge while enabling me to connect with new people, forming lasting relationships and friendships. My volunteering experience has also enhanced my understanding and empathy towards others, as it exposed me to a range of different perspectives and experiences.
Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer for the Jaskomal Foundation at the 2023 Vaisakhi Festival held at Trafalgar Square as part of the DKMS drive. Most recently, in June 2023, I joined other DKMS volunteers and staff, including Sam from DKMS Bedford, DKMS Scotland and DKMS West London, to freefall abseil 262ft from the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Olympic Park, to raise funds for DKMS. My goal was to reach £500 in donations; I raised £1465 and the combined efforts of the team raised an amazing £3440!