Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Siblings' desperate plea to save mother's life

A Jewish family in the UK has just three weeks to find a stem cell donor to save their mother's life after discovering her leukaemia has returned.

Sharon Berger, 65, of London was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) in 2012, and was told that the only available cure was a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor.

A global search was launched - dubbed the #Spit4Mum campaign - and a matching donor was found within weeks which meant Sharon had an apparently successful transplant in May 2013.

But sadly, last week, a routine blood test revealed that, despite a successful transplant, the aggressive nature of her illness means the cancer has returned. Doctors have now told the family that Sharon has just five weeks before she needs a second transplant.

'It means that her body has not responded to the anonymous matching donor which seemed to have saved her life, and now needs another transplant,' explains her son Jonni, together with his sister Caroline, spearheaded the 2013 #Spit4Mum campaign, which led to a 1,100 per cent increase in the number of British Jews registering as donors.

Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan is now searching the world's combined stem cell registries for someone whose tissue type matches Sharon's. But the search is proving difficult because of Sharon's combination of rare tissue types.

Because of Sharon's Jewish heritage, her best match is likely to be an Ashkenazi Jew. But the family is encouraging everyone who is eligible to join the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow register, as a potential match.

A recent study found that of patients who receive a second transplant, one in three survived for at least another five years.

"This means that if we can find Mum another match in the next five weeks, there is a good chance that she will have a second chance at life post-transplant," said Jonni.

Sharon celebrated her 65th birthday only a few weeks ago, and recently saw the birth of her second grandchild. "We're all in a state of shock. It's always in the back of your mind that it could come back, but we thought we were in the clear. We got used to the good times," added Jonni.

Sharon is being treated in isolation at Hammersmith Hospital and on July 25 started a six-week course of chemotherapy.

If a donor isn't found in the next three weeks, doctors may have no choice but to perform the transplant using stem cells from Jonni or Caroline - a procedure which has a much smaller chance of success because her children only share half her tissue type. Two thirds of UK patients who need a transplant cannot find a matching donor within their own family.

Ann O'Leary, Head of Register and Development at Anthony Nolan, said: ''We're extremely saddened to hear that Sharon's cancer has returned and out thoughts are with her in her upcoming treatment. We will be doing all we can to support her and family in the search for a donor.

"Sharon and her family have made an incredible contribution to the register by raising awareness among the Jewish community, and as a result they achieved a well-deserved special commendation for BAME Advocate of the Year at the Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards in 2013.

"We would urge anyone who hasn't joined up yet from around the world to consider doing so-it's straightforward and could help save the life of someone like Sharon.

Recent update-celebrities rally round #Spit4Mum

Dozens of celebrities such as Sharon Osbourne, Matt Lucas, boyband Blue, Bear Grylls, Jeremy Kyle and London mayor Sadiq Khan have all shared the #Spit4Mum campaign online.

Sharon's daughter Caroline said, "We've been incredibly moved by the global support from celebrities on social media. Now I hope we can turn those tweets into sign-ups to help save my mum's life from blood cancer. We are incredibly grateful that people in the public eye are putting the weight of their social media presence behind our #Spit4Mum campaign and using their celebrity status for the greater good."

Her brother, Jonni, added, "We've had some amazing social media support which has taken our appeal to new audiences. It's fantastic to see people getting behind our campaign so quickly. Retweets raise awareness but people have to take action, and that is the hard part."

To join the register, you must be aged 16-30, in good health and weigh at least 50kg. We are particularly looking for people from Jewish and other ethnic minority backgrounds to join, as they are currently underrepresented on the donor register.

To register to donate stem cells please go to Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide or www.bmdw.org which is a global database of lifesaving stem cell donors.


For more information, please visit www.anthonynolan.org.


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