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Sikh Woman Gets Bone Marrow From German Woman, Creating Lasting Bond
REGINA -- Harmeet Kaur changed the date of her birthday from June 12 to Sept. 28 -- the day a generous young German woman gave her the gift of a lifetime.
Diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, Kaur was told she needed chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant or she'd die within a year.
"They told me that it is very hard to find a donor because I am from Asia and not many people from Asia put their name on the registry," said the 37-year-old Regina mother of two.
After Kaur's name was put on the Canadian Blood Services' OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network (formerly the Unrelated Bone Marrow Donor Registry), she had a long anxious wait before she received a call to tell her that stem cells from Ina Kutzsche in Dresden, Germany were a match.
"My first Christmas I wrote her a letter anonymously and said, 'Thank you for saving my life. You didn't just save my life, you saved my whole family's life.' I had the bone marrow transplant on Sept. 28, 2004 so now I celebrate my birthday on that day," Kaur said. "(The transplant) is like giving someone a new life because before I didn't have any hope."
Her children were five and six years old when she had the bone marrow transplant. Kutzsche was 23 when she donated. Five years earlier, she'd signed up as a bone marrow donor after she read a pamphlet that explained how the procedure could save lives.
When the two women discovered each other's names they started exchanging e-mails. Then Kaur sent Kutzsche a plane ticket to Regina.
"She said, 'If you want me to come, take me to Niagara Falls,' " Kaur said. "She didn't realize how far it is."
But when Kutzsche and her boyfriend arrived for a two-week stay in July, they and the Kaur family motored to Ontario. While on holidays, the two women made a friendship hand mold at a wax museum.
"It's our two hands together with a butterfly on it -- it represents our friendship," Kaur said. "When she came here my kids made posters that said, 'Welcome lifesaver.' That's true. She's my angel. They consider me cured for now."
She said that although she and Kutzsche are miles apart they're forever connected. To connect others to the stem cell and marrow network, Kaur tells people about her lifesaving experience. When she spoke at Regina's Sikh Temple 35 people committed to register as donors.
Kaur, a licensed practical nurse who works at the Regina General Hospital, was amazed that medical staff didn't realize how easy it is to be a bone marrow donor.
"After I told them, some of the nurses put their name in," Kaur said. "My husband, my whole family and my brother in India have all registered. It is my wish that someone should call for my husband and he can be a match. I can't wait."
To join OneMatch, donors must be between 17 and 50, healthy and willing to donate stem cells to anyone in need, said Lindy McIntyre, regional communications manager for the Prairie region of Canadian Blood Services.
"There are some health problems that could make you ineligible and that includes some heart conditions, cancer, blood diseases and insulin-dependent diabetics," she said.
Registrations can be done online at www.onematch.ca or by calling 1-888-236-6283. A OneMatch co-ordinator will call to verify the information and then send out a kit to collect a sample.
"It's like a sterile cotton tipped applicator - a big cotton swab - so you take a swab from the inside of your cheek and then send that back in the postage-paid envelope," McIntyre said. "The information will be put into the OneMatch database for a potential match for any patient in the world."
Currently about 227,000 Canadians are in the international database. Donors from many ethnic communities are needed to reflect the needs of all patients.
Canadian Blood Services pays for all of a donor's costs, except lost wages, when they travel to Winnipeg, Calgary or Vancouver where the bone marrow is extracted.
The procedure is no longer the painful process it used to be, McIntyre said.
"Peripheral blood stem cells are stem cells that circulate in the blood so they can be collected like a blood donation," she said.
Bone marrow stem cell donation is a surgical procedure performed under anesthesia. The physician uses hollow needles to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of a donor's pelvic bones to take about a litre of fluid. The procedure lasts between one and two hours and donors are normally discharged from the hospital the same day.
"An employee here happened to be a match and he said it was one of the most meaningful experiences that he's ever done," McIntyre said.
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