Newsbrief: Are you the type to save a life?: Esther Oxford on the race to find a bone marrow donor for Sue Harris

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Indy Lifestyle Online
More than 2,000 Jews have volunteered blood samples to help save the life of a woman dying from leukaemia.

Law student Sue Harris, 31, has a rare tissue type. Unless she finds a donor with matching bone marrow, her prospects of recovery are slim. She has been told that her chances of finding a donor are best among Jews like herself, whose families came from Eastern Europe.

Queues of people have spent their weekends waiting to be tested in synagogues across London. 'Everyone want to be The One to save Sue's life, said Diane Kenwood, a volunteer.

As yet the correct match has not been found. 'We are planning to extend the search to the US, said Ms Kenwood.

Sue first found out she had leukaemia 18 months ago. 'I was incredulous at how I could suddenly become so vulnerable, she said.

As her condition got more serious she went to the Anthony Nolan Trust, the first charity to set up a central register of donors. They did not have a tissue type match. 'Ethnic blood was in short supply, she was told.

Her friends decided to pool their skills in marketing, PR and journalism. With their experience of campaigning and Jewish affairs they could start up their own campaign. They would find a donor, they vowed, even if it meant screening thousands of people.

Impressed by such commitment the Anthony Nolan Trust agreed to help: if Sue found the volunteers, they would provide the facilities to screen up to 3,000 people.

At first Sue was reluctant to be the figurehead. 'She didn't want to be known as 'Sue Harris, the woman who has leukaemia'. She wanted to be Sue Harris, the woman who can walk down a street, said Diane Kenwood.

However, Sue's background in marketing helped. 'She realised that appealing directly to people would be more effective. She got used to saying: 'This is me. This is my problem. You have got to save my life'. It worked. People responded in a very emotional way. Everyone wanted to give their marrow to Sue.

A series of full-page adverts in New Moon magazine and the Jewish Chronicle provoked a huge response. One read: '1,862 people who believe Sue Harris' life is worth 10mls of their blood. Underneath was a picture of Sue and 14 columns listing the names of people who had agreed to take a test.

Now the campaign plans to build on a similar effort in the US in which more than 30,000 were screened in a matter of weeks. Before then the chances of a Jewish patient finding a donor were 1 in 10; now they are 1 in 5.

Sue is hopeful, even though success cannot be taken for granted once a donor is found: 'It has been a long haul and it's not going to be a tea party, but I'm just drinking in all the support that's been shown to me.

If you would like to help, call Freephone 0800 717717.

(Photograph omitted)

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