Match4Lara: 24-year-old needs your help to find a stem cell match
She specifically needs mixed race people to donate
The family of a human rights activist and UCL masters student are appealing for urgent bone marrow donations after discovering she has an aggressive form of leukaemia. Lara Casalotti, 24, was volunteering with refugees in Thailand when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) just before Christmas. The campaigner is currently studying a masters in global migration at UCL and has worked with the UN.
Being mixed race with a Thai mother and an Italian father could be threatening her life, as only three per cent of worldwide donors have more than one ethnic background – and even fewer are an Asian-European mix like Lara. This makes finding a bone marrow match even harder than usual, so her family are asking people to apply to be stem cell donors. AML is an aggressive form of cancer, which means Lara needs a stem cell donation before April – and doctors have said Lara’s best chance of finding a match is among people who are of both Asian and European heritage.
Only 0.5 per cent of people on the Anthony Nolan UK register are from East Asian backgrounds and 1.5 per cent are from European backgrounds. The shortage of ethnic minority donors means that only 20 per cent of people from non-white backgrounds will find a perfect match.
Lara said: “All my friends and family have been amazingly supportive from the very beginning. It was a shame to find out that my brother wasn’t a match but in no time my family had got the donor appeal up and running.
“I really can’t express how grateful and touched I am by everyone who has helped raise awareness and has signed up to bone marrow registries in response to the campaign. Thank you all so much.”
Lara’s brother Seb, a 20-year-old medical student at Cambridge, said: “Lara’s in good spirits despite being in pain, feeling nauseous and her hair falling out. She’s such an amazingly strong person, always fighting for others, and this is just another challenge for her.
“It all happened really quickly. Just a few months ago, Lara and I were travelling in India together and when we got back, she was excited to work on her Masters. She was fit and healthy, loving her yoga and had endless energy for her charitable work with refugees. She was doing amazing things with her life.”
In early December, Lara thought she’d pulled a muscle in her back, and was getting a bit out of breath on short runs. Not realising anything was seriously wrong, she flew out to Thailand where she was working with a professor from Oxford on conditions for domestic migrant workers.
Seb said: “While she was there the pain she’d been having down one side of her body suddenly switched to the other side. That’s when she started to get worried. She was given a blood test and, to everyone’s immense shock, discovered she had leukaemia. We flew out to see her straight away and then all came home together a few days later. We spent Christmas in hospital as a family.”
If you live in the UK and are aged between 16 and 30, getting tested to find out if you’re a match is really easy. Just register with the Anthony Nolan Trust and then you’ll be sent a kit through the post to give a saliva sample. Follow Lara’s campaign on her website.