Camden’s Jewish Museum and Edgware’s Burnt Oak Church join campaign to find donor match for Lara.
The mother of the student at the centre of an international campaign to find a rare stem cell donor, is urging people to attend donor drives in North West London this weekend. She hopes to find a life-saving match for her daughter and help other patients in urgent need of a transplant. The Jewish Museum in Camden and the Burnt Oak Annunication Church in Edgware are both holding special events on Sunday.
24-year-old Lara Casalotti from Belsize Park was diagnosed with aggressive leukaemia just before Christmas while on a research project in Thailand. She urgently needs to find a stem cell donor within the next few weeks to save her life. Unfortunately, her mixed race heritage makes it very hard to find a match. Her parents are Chinese-Thai and Italian. Her best chance of finding a donor is thought to be among Asian or mixed race people.
The campaign to find a match for Lara, an ex-South Hampstead High School pupil, has gone international and attracted the support of celebrities such as JK Rowling, Mark Wahlberg, Gareth Bale and Stephen Fry. It’s even reached the House of Commons with David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions giving his backing to the campaign.
A series of events around London hope to recruit more donors, particularly those who are mixed race or from ethnic minorities as there is an acute shortage of such donors. This Sunday, there are donor drives arranged by the charity Delete Blood Cancer UK at the Jewish Museum in Camden and the Burnt Oak Annunciation Church in Edgware. Anyone aged 18 to 55 is being encouraged to come and be tested as a donor match and simply asked not to drink, eat, smoke or chew gum for 30 minutes beforehand.
Lara’s mother would like to thank everyone for their efforts to date: “We’ve been totally overwhelmed by the kindness of total strangers wanting to help. We’re trying to find a needle in a haystack and need all the help we can get. All the publicity is fantastic but we need to convert that into people actually getting tested. People can turn up at these donor drives and literally just need to spit in a tube or have a cheek swab to be tested.
“It was surreal hearing David Cameron mention Lara in the House of Commons last week and back our campaign. And we’re so grateful to our wonderul MP Tulip Siddiq for all her help and support. Now we need a huge turnout at the events this week. We’re really up against the clock as it can take over a month for people’s saliva to be fully checked to see if it’s a match for Lara or any other patients. Lara needs a stem cell donor as soon as possible – while her body is strong enough to benefit from the donation. If you turn out to be a match, donating stem cells is as easy as giving blood. There’s no painful operation involved. The whole process is so simple yet will give Lara or someone else the chance of life.”
A family friend due to help at the Jewish Museum on Sunday commented: “People in our North West London community are coming together in all sorts of way and using their skills to support the campaign to find a match for Lara. From organising donor drives, designing leaflets and persuading local shops and restaurants to put up posters, to writing to schools and colleges, contacting the media and spreading the word on social media. The desire to help Lara has really brought out the best in people – and touchingly brought together old friends who’ve not seen each other for a long time. The incredible support for the campaign is a reflection of Lara’s own compassionate and fun personality.
“It’s great that the Jewish Museum is hosting this donor drive on Sunday from 10 til 3, in association with Delete Blood Cancer UK. In her usual selfless way, Lara wants this campaign to be not just about her but wants to help people from all ethnic backgrounds. There’s an urgent need to diversify stem cell donor registries, so all ethnic minorities including Jewish people need to come forward to help their communities. Doctors say Lara’s best chance of finding a donor is among those who are mixed race or have some Asian heritage, so I would urge people who fit that bill to come and get tested too.”
There’s also a donor drive on Sunday at the Burnt Oak Annunciation Church in Edgware. A spokesperson for the Burnt Oak Church’s Filipino group commented: “So many members of our community are the right ethnic mix to be potential life-savers for this lovely young woman. The Filipinos are kind people and they always want to help; they will want to come and get tested and save Lara’s life. Someone in our community could be the lucky person who can give the gift of life to Lara.”
While others have been inspired to help by Lara herself: “I liked Lara from the moment I met her during my son’s university graduation ceremony a couple of years ago. I’m doing this because I could see from her eyes how much she was looking forward to the future and that is about to be taken away from her; because I recognise the pain of her parents; and because I just cannot accept any of us giving up.”
“Lara is my closest friend. She is the one person I feel comfortable about saying anything around but also the person I have spent hours with laughing – it’s difficult to imagine her not being involved in my life. I will do everything in my power to help her get better.”
Delete Blood Cancer UK is urging people to come to the events and be tested: “Could you be the one person who could be Lara’s match and donate some blood stem cells to save her life? If you don’t register you will never know if you could have been that life-saving match.”
People who’d like to help but can’t make it to the donor drives can order a kit online and do the test by post – from Delete Blood Cancer UK if they’re 18-55 or if they’re 16-30, kits are available from Anthony Nolan.