In 1992, just before Christmas, a thirty-year old Jewish woman in the midst of revising for her Law Society Finals was rushed into the Royal Free Hospital, London with severe stomach pains. An operation to remove a ruptured spleen revealed chronic myeloid leukaemia.
Sue Harris began the campaign to find her bone marrow donor in September 1993, knowing that she was more likely to find a matching donor from the Jewish community.
100,000 leaflets, with the headline Her biggest worry was her law exams. Now she needs you to save her life, were distributed to synagogues throughout Britain in time for Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. Full-page advertisements in the Jewish Chronicle told her story in a similar vein, as did editorial pieces in several national newspapers.
Most significantly, Sue chose to speak at over 150 events, captivating audiences with a simple and direct message: “you could save my life and that of others with leukaemia; you can only find this out by being tested and joining the Anthony Nolan register”. At the start of her campaign there were only 48 Jewish people on the register; by the end, she had helped to recruit more than 15,000.
Sue’s search for a donor followed a scenario that sadly still occurs today. A donor was found but two days before she was due to go into hospital for the transplant, Sue received a message that the donor could not proceed for medical reasons. By the time she received a transplant from a second donor, it was too late for it to work and Sue passed away on 19 February 1997.