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Have you got three minutes to potentially save the life of someone with leukaemia?

The West Midlands Black and Asian Police Association (BAPA) is asking for three minutes of your time - to potentially help save the life of someone with leukaemia.

Working closely with the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT), the BAPA is trying to raise awareness of the difficulty facing people of black or ethnic origins to find a matching donor if they are diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukaemia.

More than 70 people a day in the UK are diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukaemia and many of these are children. Replacing their cancerous blood cells through a process called stem cell or bone marrow donation can be the last chance of life-saving treatment for many of these patients.

When 75 per cent of those patients don't find a matching donor in their families, they turn to the Bone Marrow Registry for an unrelated donor.

White people have a 60 per cent chance of finding a donor match as there are 30 times more white people on the register than black and other ethnic minorities.

As a result, that percentage drops to only 20.5 per cent for patients from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background. This is because finding a donor match is race specific and works only on: white to white, black to black and Asian to Asian grounds.

So BAPA and ACLT are encouraging black officers and other racial minorities to take note and take three minutes to join the Bone Marrow Registry and help save lives like that of former Leicestershire Police Inspector Rik Basra who spent several months seriously ill on a waiting list before finding a bone marrow donor.

PC Jamie Buchanan from Police Scotland and Supt Mark Stanton of Merseyside Police were also lucky enough to find donors for their condition.

The ACLT was founded in 1996 by black parents Beverley De-Gale and Orin Lewis, three years after receiving the devastating news that their six-year-old son Daniel De-Gale needed a stem cell transplant in order to win his battle against acute leukaemia.

They were told that the chances of finding a donor match for their son would be like winning the lottery simply because he was black. So they began a massive search to try to save his life. After several years of toxic treatments to sustain him, Daniel found his match in an American black woman who joined the Bone Marrow Registry in three minutes of her lunch break.

Daniel received this life-saving treatment and was able to go to school, university and enjoy playing football with his friends.

In October 2008, Daniel died at the age of 21 as a result of multiple organ failure. This was due to complications with his health after having waited too long for his donor match to be found - but his parents have never stopped trying to increase the number of ethnic minority people on the bone marrow, blood and organ donor registers.

Those in BME communities are also much more likely to need a bone marrow donation due to certain blood diseases, like sickle cell anaemia, which are more common in BME populations.

The process of donating stem cells is done in one of two ways. Around 90 per cent of those donating will have their stem cells taken from their blood. This is very similar to giving blood and is quick, easy, and pain free. The biggest problem is boredom as the process takes four hours.

The other 10 per cent of those donating will have the stem cells taken from their hip, under a general anaesthetic; no drills, just a small needle patched up with a plaster afterwards. Some equate any discomfort felt to the day after a good session in the gym. A session that could save someone's life.

Donor kits, which involve a short application form and a cheek swab, are sent out with full instructions on how to use them and send them back. The main exclusions for donation are:

  • Being under 17 or over 55.
  • Having a BMI of over 40, or weighing under seven stone.
  • If specific health concerns may deem you unsuitable to donate, such as heart or lung disease.

For more information, please contact Marcia Francis, ACLT champion, at Marcia.francis@west-midlands.pnn.police.uk