Worldwide donor search to save Cardiff University student

Vithiya Alphons Image copyright Anthony Nolan

A worldwide search is on to find a stem cell donor for a Cardiff University student diagnosed with leukaemia, who needs to find a match urgently.

Vithiya Alphons, 24, has acute myeloid leukaemia and has been told she needs a donation in the next two months.

But because of her Sri Lankan background, the search is more complex as not many South Asian people are on donor registers.

The charity Anthony Nolan said it was looking for a "potential lifesaver".

Miss Alphons was diagnosed with the aggressive form of blood cancer after falling ill just days after returning for her final year as an optometry student at Cardiff University.

She had secured a graduate job at Specsavers and said she was feeling positive about the future.

Image copyright Anthony Nolan

But she started feeling unwell with severe sickness and a fever, while she had a pain in her leg, so she went to the doctor for tests.

"From the first symptom to being diagnosed, it was only five days," she said.

"I'd been absolutely fine before that. My whole life changed in under a week."

She underwent chemotherapy in Cardiff before being well enough to be transferred to a hospital in London, where she is from.

After her third course of chemotherapy, she felt better and thought she had beaten her illness.

"But unfortunately, further tests showed the leukaemia was still there in my blood and I'd definitely relapse in under a year unless I had a stem cell transplant," she said.

"It was so upsetting and unexpected."

Image copyright Anthony Nolan

Doctors told Miss Alphons her best option was now a stem cell transplant from a donor, which is needed in the next two months.

Her brother Clime is only a 50% match and doctors have said her best chance of survival is a closer match from an unrelated donor.

Anthony Nolan is now searching the world's donor registers for someone whose tissue type matches Miss Alphons's.

But the search is complicated by the fact not many people from South Asia are on the registers.

Miss Alphons and her family and friends are also using social media to campaign to raise awareness of the issue and urge people to help.

"I knew it was going to be difficult because there aren't many people from South Asian backgrounds who are signed up as donors," she said.

"It's frustrating but I don't think it's about Asian people not wanting to sign up.

"They just don't know what it is - they think it's taking something from your bone. We have to raise awareness."

Ann O'Leary, head of register development at Anthony Nolan, said: "Vithiya is a bright and inspirational young woman and somewhere out there, there's a potential lifesaver who could give her a lifeline by donating their stem cells."

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