A mother from Kenton whose family spurred the Jewish community into registering as stem cell donors has been readmitted to hospital, after her leukaemia returned.
Sharon Berger, who celebrated her 65th birthday only a few weeks ago, received the devastating news on Thursday following a routine blood test.
It means that her body has not responded to the anonymous matching donor which seemed to have saved her life, and now needs another transplant.
“We’re all in a state of shock,” said her son Jonni, who – together with his sister Caroline – spearheaded the #Spit4Mum campaign, which led to a 1,700 percent increase in the number of British Jews registering as donors.
“Despite hearing the news on Thursday, mum still insisted on cooking us Friday night dinner, knowing that she’d be back in hospital on Monday for weeks of treatment.”
Sharon was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia three years ago, and was told that she needed a matching stem cell donor to save her life. Given Jews’ shared genetic heritage, it became apparent that this would most likely be found in the Jewish community.
An anonymous donor was soon identified as “a nine out of ten match,” and hopes were raised when she seemed to respond well to the treatment, so last week’s news has left the family reeling.
“It’s always in the back of your mind that it could come back, but we thought we were in the clear,” said Jonni this week. “You get used to the good times.”
Since the first transplant, Sharon has seen the birth of her second grandchild and enjoyed “many happy times,” says Jonni, “and hopes to see more in the future, but we now need another donor, so it’s once again the summer of #Spit4Mum”.
Sharon is being treated in isolation at Hammersmith Hospital and on Monday started a six-week course of chemotherapy, which may last longer if there are infections, but she is well aware of the public’s support.
“I wrote about it on Facebook on Sunday night, turned my computer off and went to sleep,” her son said. “By the time I woke up on Monday morning there were hundreds of messages of support. Mum has been unbelievably buoyed by that.”
Donors must be 16 years old, and while he knows that vast numbers registered in the last three years, says that some who couldn’t register then now can, such as those who have recently turned 16, or those who were pregnant the first time.
Asked how his mum was coping with the latest setback, Jonni said: “She was shocked too, of course, and worried, because she’s fully aware of the situation and knows how painful the side effects can be, but she’s resilient and determined. She’s prepared for the challenge. Let’s hope the community can rise to the challenge too.”
Sharon's donor will most likely be someone with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, so we particularly need donors from this community.
— Anthony Nolan (@AnthonyNolan) July 11, 2016