A Nigerian-German mother of two is hoping for a miracle as she searches for a stem cell donor so that she can live to see her sons grow.
Getting the right match has been made difficult by her descent. She has a German mother and a Nigerian father.
Astrid, 41, received the shocking diagnosis of aggressive blood cancer – acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – in September 2018 after she went to see a doctor for a fever and inflamed mouth and throat.
“I had a fever, felt weak and my gums were badly inflamed,” she said.
The doctor prescribed rest and medication but over the weekend her condition worsened.
A blood test later revealed blood cancer. She immediately started chemotherapy. After five rounds of chemotherapy, she has been told that to survive, she needs a stem cell transplant within months.
Difficulty of finding a matching stem cell donor
“Mixed origin patients around the world are at a disadvantage due to the underrepresentation in the global donor pool. We need to change this,” said Astrid.
A blood stem cell transplant is a procedure where defective cells in the bone marrow are replaced with healthy ones from a donor. It is a fairly painless procedure for the donor that can take up to 6 hours, which is similar to donating platelets. It has no major side effects.
According to UK and Germany-based blood cancer charity, DKMS, fewer than three per cent of registered blood stem cell donors in Europe have mixed background genetics. In the UK, black and Asian people have 20 per cent chance of finding a match.
The search for Astrid’s genetic twins has been daunting. She and her husband, Florian, had launched appeals in Germany and England ( London has the largest population of Nigerians in the diaspora in Europe ) without luck. They are now turning to Nigeria for help.
Getting a match donor
In order to help Astrid find her genetical twins in Nigeria, the Bone Marrow Registry Nigeria(BMRN) and Project PINK BLUE, have urged Nigerians, especially those with mixed descent, to sign up for testing.
The groups held campaigns for a donor in Abuja and Enugu on May 4 and plans to hold another in Lagos on May 9.
They said willing donors can sign up at http://bit.ly/HelpAstridLagos
Project PINK BUE Director, Runcie Chidebe, said BMRN, Astrid’s family and friends are organising the donor drive registration events in Nigeria.
Mr Chidebe said Nigerians can help by registering as a potential stem cell donor in Abuja, Enugu and Lagos with the Bone Marrow Registry Nigeria (BMRN) & Project PINK BLUE.
“Increasing the number of donors from Nigeria is crucial to significantly improve the situation of Nigerian blood cancer patients and patients like Astrid, who are of mixed origin,” he said.
“The life-threatening illness is not the first stroke of fate the family has had to cope with. Her husband Florian was paralysed in a traffic accident in 2014.
“Astrid’s friends describe her as an incredibly positive and strong woman. She urgently needs the support of the entire population to register as potential stem cell donors for her and others living with blood cancers,” he said.
“The chances of finding this match is 1:100 000 and the best chance of a match is within your same ethnic background. There is only a 25 per cent chance that a sibling will be a match. The remaining 75 per cent chance depends on an unrelated matching donor being found.”
He said anyone who is healthy and between 18-45 years old, in general, good health with a weight of more than 50kgs and a BMI of less than 40 can register as a donor.
Donors who have already registered in the past do not have to register again. Once registered, their data will be available to patients worldwide until they turn 61 years, he said.
People interested to register are advised to refrain from consuming any food, chewing gum and beverages for an hour before coming through to register.
Mr Chidebe said the registration process will take less than 10 minutes.