A Vietnamese patient finds hope and a new lease of life after treatment for blood cancer at Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore

One of the first changes Ms. Le Ngoc Anh noticed in her body was the profuse sweating that began to happen daily. Not long after, she became pregnant. In the 12th week of her pregnancy, she went for a maternal serum screening and discovered that the white blood cell count had skyrocketed to an alarming 201,000, way above the normal limit of 12,000. A second test at another hospital confirmed the results, and she was advised to head to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) to check for blood disease.

The diagnosis turned out to be Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML). A cancer of the white blood cells, CML is a serious and rare disease that was previously considered fatal. “Once I learned I had leukemia, I had a complete breakdown,” she recalls. Not knowing whether she can be cured, her family too suffered the emotional toll as they grappled with the uncertainties and confusion.

She sought treatment at a hospital in HCMC. However, she found the experience of sharing the room with several patients unsettling. Fearful of possible exposure to cross infection, she decided to travel to Singapore in search of better treatment conditions.

Ms. Anh chose Mount Elizabeth Hospital and sought the care of Dr. Patrick Tan, an experienced hematologist who subspecializes in bone marrow transplant and transplant immunology. He is also known as a pioneer in cord blood and stem cell transplant, having performed the world’s first successful case of unrelated blood stem cell transplant and unrelated cord blood transplant for thalassemia major, a rare inherited blood disorder. In 2004, Dr. Tan became the medical director of the Haematology and Stem Cell Transplant Centre at Mount Elizabeth Hospital. At the hospital, the level of comfort catered to overseas patients was another plus. Aside from providing international cuisines, the hospital has created a Vietnamese-themed ward to help patients like Ms. Anh feel at home. Signboards are translated into Vietnamese, and the staff can converse in basic Vietnamese. In addition, a translator is always on hand to translate the patients’ medical questions.

According to Dr. Tan, Ms. Anh stands a chance of being completely cured due to her young age and the disease being discovered at an early stage. She was suitable for treatment with oral medication, which she responded well to. Dr. Tan explains, “From my previous patients, we know that if the leukaemia becomes undetectable, she can continue the medication for another two more years and the medication can be stopped without the disease coming back. Most of my patients who have been treated this way have a 90% chance of cure.” For Dr. Tan, his hope for Ms. Anh is to cure her condition for good. He says, “She is also at child-bearing age. Should she have to continue the medication for the long term, there is no chance for her to form a family as the medication is not safe for mothers during pregnancy. The chance of having a cure and to stop the medication is a big bonus for her and she will be able to return to her normal way of life.”

Having been on a long, arduous journey to recover her health, Ms. Anh is ready to move forward and chase her dreams again. “When I first arrived at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, my gene mutation rate was about 45. Now, after two years, it has returned to 0. According to Dr. Tan’s anticipation, my rate would be back to 0 in month 18, but in reality, it already stayed at 0 by month 16. My health is better and my confidence is back,” Ms. Anh shares. “My dream was to travel around the world. So, I will visit places I like and continue doing my business.”

This article is brought to you by Mount Elizabeth Hospital. For more enquiries, please contact our Philippine office at manila.ph@parkwaypantai.com.