National blood drive for sick girl raises hope for leukemia patients

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 18.02.2019 00:02

Öykü Arin Yazıcı is a poster child for other young leukemia patients as an unprecedented surge in the number of donations in a campaign to help her instills hope for thousands.

Three-year-old Yazıcı, who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, spurred the growth in donations of blood and stem cells when the Be A Hope For Öykü Arin campaign went viral online. Her case may be the strongest response to a social media campaign in Turkey as figures by the Turkish Red Crescent, which oversees the drive, shows. "We reached the number of stem cell donations we had in all of 2018 in the first two months of 2019 thanks to the wave of awareness by the campaign for Öykü," Red Crescent President Kerem Kınık told Anadolu Agency (AA), while visiting the young girl in Antalya where she undergoes treatment.

A bone marrow transplant is the only cure for the girl, who suffers from Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia, a rare disease that affects children of her age, in particular. Since she was diagnosed with this slowly developing disease in November 2018, her family has taken to every platform they could to raise their voice to find a suitable bone marrow transplant. It was on social media that the campaign made waves and soon, everyone joined the campaign, from popular TV shows to celebrities urging more people to donate.

Kınık praises the campaign and points out that the number of donors reached 100,000 in January and February, compared to 110,000 donors throughout 2018. "I believe this will help not only Öykü but also girls and boys like her, help them cling to life," he said. The Red Crescent runs 300 donation centers where 3,300 staff work and integrated their donor databases with the World Tissue Bank, boosting chances for leukemia patients to find matches in Turkey and abroad.

In the past four years, Turkey managed to collect stem cell donations from 500,000 people, succeeding in ending misconceptions and reluctance concerning donations, which were once prevalent in Turkey. This helped "some 1,000 successful transplants," Kınık says. "We believe we will reach 1 million donors soon. Having more donors mean shorter waiting times for patients," he added.

Öykü Arin recently started chemotherapy, and a search of an international stem cell donor database in which some 7 million donors are registered failed to find a match. Still, the family is hopeful a suitable donor will be found before March when a deadline for a bone marrow transplant ends for the girl.

Though no concrete figures are available, leukemia is among the most common cancer types affecting children in Turkey. Families cling to hopes

for a transplant. "A transplant is the only cure, and if we cannot find a 100 percent compatible donor for Öykü, doctors will transplant bone marrows from me," her mother Eylem Yazıcı says. Unfortunately, her marrow will only be 50 percent compatible for Öykü, and she may need another transplant in the future. "This is a disease in which she can relapse again even if we find a donor. So, it is an emergency for us. Moreover, this has been a heartfelt task for us since the campaign started, to help other children like Öykü," her mother said.

Yazıcı said the campaign has now spread to 12 other countries and they heard "good news" from Germany, about a donor match with a patient awaiting transplant in Germany. "We hear similar news from time to time, and we expect more successful transplants for other patients too," she added.

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