A professional boxer from East London is calling for more people to sign up as potential stem cell donors, after being told that he needs a transplant to treat his cancer.
Harjeet Bhatti, 25, from Ilford, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a rare type of blood cancer, in November 2018. He received his diagnosis after his sister rushed him to A&E, when he became so unwell he was unable to walk.
Whilst training a month earlier he found himself getting increasingly tired, and after returning from a fight in the Super Boxing League in India, he was suffering with shortness of breath and was unable to stand for any length of time.
Harj said: ‘I couldn’t stand without support, my symptoms worsened, I had bleeding gums and I couldn’t walk.’
He visited his GP who sent him for a blood test, but he was unable to make the appointment. A few days later his sister took him to A&E, where he was diagnosed with leukaemia.
Harj said ‘At the hospital we were told that if we didn’t get there that day, it could have been too late.’
Harj is currently having chemotherapy but he has now been told that he needs a stem cell transplant if he is to be cured of his cancer.
Speaking about his diagnosis, Harj’s sister Kaljinder, said: ‘He’s still super positive, he’s quite nervous but he’s really grateful to have all the support. He just wants to get back fighting again, boxing is his whole life.
‘I would tell anyone who is thinking of joining the Anthony Nolan register to just do it, do it and do it now and they could be that one, they could be the golden nugget for someone like Harj.’
His siblings have been tested but unfortunately, they aren’t a match for Harj. Around 75% of UK patients won’t find a matching donor in their families.
Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan is now searching the stem cell register for a donor whose tissue type matches Harj’s, and who is willing to donate their stem cells to save his life. His match is most likely to come from somebody with the same heritage.
Currently, donors from Asian or other minority ethnic backgrounds, make up just 16% of the register, and patients have only a 20% chance of finding the best possible donor match, compared to 69% for people with white, European heritage.
Sarah Rogers, Anthony Nolan Regional Development Manager for London, said: ‘We’re wishing Harj and his family the very best as he starts his search for a lifesaving match. Every day, five people, like Harj, will start their search for a matching stranger to give them a second chance of life.
‘Every single person who signs up has the potential to give hope to someone like Harj, who is in desperate need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant. We’re particularly calling on young men aged 16-30 to consider joining the Anthony Nolan register as they provide more than 50% of all stem cell donations but make up just 18% of our register. We also urgently need more people Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, to sign up and give hope to people like Harj.’
Anthony Nolan recruits people aged 16-30 to the stem cell register as research has shown younger people are more likely to be chosen to donate. It also costs £40 to recruit each potential donor to the register, so Anthony Nolan relies on financial support.
To find about more about joining the Anthony Nolan register, or to find out more about the different ways you can support, please visit www.anthonynolan.org/Harj