Coronavirus: ‘We need bone marrow donors to save my baby girl’s life from leukaemia’, HK mother of two-year-old pleads amid London lockdown

17-Apr-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Two-year-old Livia, the child of a Hong Kong mother and German father, is among patients in a London hospital as Britain grapples with a lockdown wrought by the coronavirus. But she is fighting a disease much rarer and even deadlier.

Livia was diagnosed in early March with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). Because of the coronavirus pandemic, visits to her bedside have been restricted to reduce infection risks.

Only her father can stay with her. Her aunt and grandparents in Hong Kong cannot travel there for fear of exposing the child to more health risks.

Mother Olive Yu, who has been trying every means possible to save her daughter with access to donor registrations delayed during the lockdown told the Post in a phone interview: “I still think that I’m in a really bad dream. I still find it very hard to accept that this is happening. Livia is everything to us because she’s the only grandchild in the family, and our only child.”

We need to be thinking about how we can help give her [as much time] as she can get

Olive Yu, mother

The family has called on those aged between 18 and 60 in Hong Kong to register as a bone marrow donor with the Hong Kong Bone Marrow Donor Registry, led by the Hong Kong Red Cross. The information is shared with the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA), a global database of volunteer donors.

There are three options to save Livia, and the most ideal one is for a matching donor to be found and a bone marrow transplant to be conducted by June, according to Livia’s family.

Yu said: “Everything takes time, especially now with the coronavirus. But the fact is, we are talking about the life of a two-year-old.

“Everything is against us, but it doesn’t mean that we should just stop and not do anything about it. So we’re going to try our best and do whatever we can to give her the best chance at life.”

As of Wednesday, Britain had recorded more than 93,000 Covid-19 cases, with a death toll of over 12,000. Police enforced a lockdown on March 23, allowing people only to leave their homes for “very limited purposes”, such as for food and health reasons, and public gatherings of more than two people have been banned, while places such as restaurants, schools, pubs and gyms are closed.

In general, for bone marrow transplants, the donor’s human leucocyte antigens (HLA), proteins found on the surface of the blood and in tissue cells, must be closely matched so that the recipient’s body can “accept” the new stem cells into their bone marrow.

“The second option is that the hospital also, at the same time, reaches out to stem cells from mothers who give birth and donate their umbilical cord,” Yu added.

“The third option is what they call a non-matching donor, which is either from the mother or father.”

The blood samples of Livia’s parents are being analysed for matches, with results pending.

AML is a form of cancer involving the rapid growth of abnormal cells in the bone marrow and blood. This cancer type accounted for less than 1 per cent of all new cancer cases in Britain in 2017, and often occurs in adults, according to Cancer Research UK. A haematologist in Hong Kong, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the incidence of cancer among children aged under 15 is around 1.2 per million. Fewer than 200 children are diagnosed with cancer in Hong Kong each year and about five out of the 200 have AML, according to him.

Livia’s aunt Selina Yu told the Post that because Livia was mixed-race, the chance of finding a matching donor for her was “one in a million”.

For mother Olive Yu, all she wants is for their nightmare to be over.

She added that instead of being tied down, the family had been trying to “be practical and move fast”.

“We need to be thinking about how we can help give her [as much time] as she can get,” Yu said.

For now, all Yu can do is to refuse any interaction with others outside her home.

“Because in case the lockdown relaxes, I can potentially go to see Livia, so I need to be 100 per cent. I can’t be passing on anything to her.”


Category: Hong Kong

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