Last night’s Student Takeover in the Highcross was about more than student discounts and deals. On the ground floor of the shopping centre opposite Debenhams, the Rik Basra Leukaemia Campaign had set up a stem cell donation drive, to help find donors and educate people on the donation process.
The eponymous campaign was set up after Leicester policeman Rik Basra was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Luekaemia in 2009. Prior to this, he was fit and active, going to the gym regularly and playing football. Five months of intense chemotherapy meant he could return to normality, and statistically, the likelihood of AML returning drops significantly after two years. Rik had reached this milestone, but after what seemed to be a simple bout of the flu, turned out to be leukaemia again.
Rik needed a bone marrow transplant this time, and with no family matches available, he turned to the stem cell donor database. With only 4% of the donors from the Asian sub-continent, the chances of finding a match were scarily low.
After almost giving up, a donor all the way from Germany was a match. All he had done was spit in a tube and filled out a simple form. And that’s how easy it is to possibly save someone’s life.
Wife of Rik, Kas Basra said: “When Rik was diagnosed, there was no match, so he wanted to do something. Since the campaign has been set up, it’s gone from strength to strength. We’re privileged to work with DMU, and we hope to have 8 more events lined up in the future with them.”
With the event starting at 1pm, it saw a vast range of volunteers giving up their time for a more than worthy cause, including students from DMU and the Square Mile Project, medical students from University of Leicester and those involved with the RBLC itself.
Amit Nathwani from Mile2, who was helping out at the event, said: “We had one event last year in the SU. Tonight’s been really busy. The Rik Basra project is one of the 40 projects DMU’s Mile2 works alongside with.”
Volunteer Neha Patel, 27 said: “I’ve been involved with Rik Basra for two years now, and I’ve done around ten events for the campaign, such as at Diwali, and the Neighbourhood Centre but this is the best one so far.
“People probably get scared because they assume it involves blood and needles but it’s simply two cotton swabs inside the cheeks. Then it’s put in an envelope, and handed in with the form.”
And I got to see for myself how easy it is. I sat down at the table, and I filled in my medical details, making sure I didn’t have any of the listed pre-existing medical conditions or was on any medication. I then did the two separate swabs myself (the volunteers can’t touch the swabs in case of DNA contamination which would render the sample useless), put them in an envelope and handed it in along with the form.
People of all ages and walks of life came down to donate, both students and non-students alike. Passer-by Muriel Serigba said: “I just came here; I’ve always wanted to do something like this. It’s so simple, so easy to donate. It’s important because you always read about how people need donors and often can’t find matches.”
This is especially true in ethnic minority groups. The Anthony Nolan register states on their website that ethnic groups such as Africans, Afro-Caribbeans, Asians and those of Jewish descent have a lower chance of being able to find a donor. But anyone of any race can donate, and the age range is from 17 to 55.
Charlie Jones, from the RBLC told us: “In fact, our 300th donor of the night was a woman who was 55, and she even got her husband to sign up.”
By 9.20, Jay Dave was the 500th person to donate. He said: “I’ve always wanted to donate. I work for the NHS so know how the process is done. I agree that a lot of people need educating, to get more people on board and this is a great way.”
The drive, which started at 1pm and finished at 11.30pm, saw the campaign take in a record-breaking total of 709, surpassing their previous 645.
Speaking to Rik at the end of the event, he was more than happy with the turnout and result: “It’s been absolutely fantastic. It went past expectations, and we broke our record. To be honest, it was all thanks to the fantastic volunteers and their hard work. And the Highcross, who gave us this fantastic space to set up in.
“It’s all about saving lives, and every person has potential to help someone.”
You can find out more by visiting the Rik Basra Leukaemia Campaign‘s website.