Kelvin Bruce-Smith from Waikato was diagnosed with leukaemia at just six years of age. After numerous tests and further bouts of illness, specialists delivered the devastating news that he would need a bone marrow transplant to survive. With increasing cases of leukaemia among the Maori and Pacific Island community, teamed with a low number of suitable bone marrow donors, the odds were stacked against Kelvin.
Kelvin was in for a long wait, but time was not something he had. Eliza, Kelvins mother, says of the time 'It was really scary. Without healthy bone marrow, Kelvin went through weeks of tests and had to have regular blood transfusions just to keep him with us'.
The young battler from Te Rarawa, To Aupouri, Ngatikahu and Ngapuhi-nui-tonu iwi, needed a bone marrow donor of Maori descent who closely matched his tissue type. A match within Kelvin's close family was not found so the search was passed to the New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry. With only 6,000 Maori and Pacific Islanders on the NZ Registry (compared to the 9 million Europeans donors on other registries) Kelvin was unable to find a donor anywhere in the world. This meant more waiting and more blood transfusions. During this time, Kelvin received over 81 blood products, such as red blood cells and platelets. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment had weakened his system and he was suffering from high blood pressure, anaemia and had to be kept in isolation as he had become susceptible to infections that could easily have killed him.
Luckily because of his young age, Kelvin was evenutally saved by transfusion of a unit of umbilical cord blood (which also contains the necessary blood forming stem cells found in bone marrow). If he had been an adult at the time, he would not have been able to receive this treatment. Following the transfusion, Kelvin was closely monitored with regular check-ups and was finally given the all clear.
Today, Kelvin leads an active life like any other 12-year-old boy; enjoying school and travelling with his whanau during the holidays and has visited his father in Australia for extended periods.
'When I was 6, doctors diagnosed me with leukaemia and told my mum I needed a bone marrow transplant to stay alive. A bone marrow donor has to have matching tissue and they have to be the same ethnicity. Because there are not many Maori donors on the Registry, the doctors couldn't find one for me' - Kelvin Bruce-Smith
Please consider joining the NZ Registry. You could be the match that saves a life.