Poonam Shah was recognised for her fundraising efforts at this year’s Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards (ANSA) at the House of Commons in London on Tuesday 28th November 2017. Poonam joined other dedicated supporters of the pioneering blood cancer charity, where she was celebrated for her hard work and determination, winning the Individual Fundraiser of the Year award. Poonam, 38, has been fundraising for the charity for more than two years. Her husband, Rakesh, died after being diagnosed with myelodysplasia (MDS) in 2012.
Due to Rakesh’s Indian heritage, he struggled to find a donor with the 10 matching genes that would help ensure that Rakesh’s body would accept the donor’s cells. Eventually, an anonymous 8/10 match from South Africa was found for Rakesh, who had a stem cell transplant in October 2014. Sadly, despite receiving a transplant, Rakesh’s condition was so advanced that he died in December 2014.
Poonam said: ‘Raks was honestly the most truly amazing, smiliest, sociable person that you’d ever meet in your whole life. Every room would light up when he entered. He was always the life and soul of the party and for him, family and friends always came first.’
After Rakesh died, Poonam decided to raise funds for Anthony Nolan, and awareness among people from south Asian and other ethnic minority backgrounds about stem cell donation. Poonam set herself the task of raising £40,000 for the charity by November 2017, to mark what would have been Rakesh’s 40th birthday – enlisting the help of friends and family to undertake 40 fundraising challenges in his memory. After smashing this target, she was awarded Individual Fundraiser of the Year at the ANSAs.
‘The evening at the ANSAs was really lovely and more emotional than I was expecting. I felt very privileged to be part of such an amazing group of people and very inspired as to what I can do next.
‘The award is of course dedicated to all those involved in the ‘Remembering Raks’ challenge – each and every one of them making it possible to reach our target. I’m totally blown away to have won ‘Individual Fundraiser of the Year’ award but it really was a huge team effort.’
The ANSAs is held annually by the charity as a chance to recognise those who go above and beyond in supporting Anthony Nolan. Poonam has been nominated for the Individual Fundraiser of the Year award, which celebrates those who dedicate time to fundraising for Anthony Nolan.
Poonam’s challenge was to climb Mt Kilimanjaro on 22 September 2017 – something her and Rakesh had always dreamt of doing together. Before the climb, she said: ‘Kilimanjaro was out of this world – a truly amazing experience which was both physically and emotionally challenging on so many levels. I’m so glad I was able to do this in Raks’ memory and I’m so grateful that I got the chance to do it at all. Although, I feel equally pained that it’s something Raks didn’t get to experience. He would have loved it.’
Two years after starting her fundraising journey, Poonam smashed her £40,000 target. In addition to raising money, Poonam has also told her story in the hope that she can encourage more people from south Asian backgrounds to sign up as stem cell donors. She said: ‘I want to raise awareness of stem cell donation among people from ethnic minority backgrounds because no person should be faced with the prospect of being told that they have no match on the register.
Anthony Nolan uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer patients in desperate need of a stem cell transplant. It also carries out vital research to make stem cell transplants more successful, and supports patients through their transplant journey.
Henny Braund, Chief Executive at Anthony Nolan, says, ‘We were incredibly proud to celebrate Poonam with other winners and nominees at this year’s Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards. Between them they have raised vital funds, recruited the lifesavers of the future, shared stories to generate awareness, campaigned for change in Parliament and volunteered countless hours to make it all happen.
‘Poonam has worked incredibly hard to raise both money and awareness for Anthony Nolan. She has successfully reached a large portion of her local community to spread about our work. While many people support Anthony Nolan, enabling us to carry out our life-saving work, Poonam really has gone above and beyond in helping to raise money for our cause.’
About Anthony Nolan
Anthony Nolan saves the lives of people with blood cancer. The charity uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer and blood disorder patients in need of stem cell transplants. It also carries out pioneering research to increase stem cell transplant success, and supports patients through their transplant journeys. Every day Anthony Nolan gives three people a second chance at life.
What is a stem cell transplant?
If a patient has a condition that affects their bone marrow or blood, then a stem cell transplant may be their best chance of survival. Doctors will give new, healthy stem cells to the patient via their bloodstream, where they begin to grow and create healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
- About 2,000 people in the UK need a stem cell transplant from a stranger every year
- 90% of donors donate through PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell collection). This is a simple, outpatient procedure similar to giving blood
- We need more young men to sign up, as they are most likely to be chosen to donate but make up just 16% of the register
- We need more people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to sign up. Only 69% of transplant recipients receive the best match. This drops dramatically to around 20.5% (one in five of transplant recipients) if you’re from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background.
- It costs £60 to add each new donor to the register so we always need financial support
- To join the Anthony Nolan register, you must be 16-30 and healthy. Anthony Nolan’s world-leading Research Institute has shown younger donors offer better survival rates for patients.
Find out more at www.anthonynolan.org