In May 2013, I received a phone call from NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) service saying I was potentially a match for a person in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant. I started giving blood at the age of 17 and chose to add myself to the bone marrow donor register back then. Bone marrow contains Blood Stem Cells which can grow into any type of blood cell and can help patients who have received high doses of chemotherapy (to treat cancer) to re-grow all of their own bone marrow which is destroyed by the chemo.
Next I had to go to my local GP who took 4 blood samples to send off for further tests. I was found to be a match for the patient, meaning we share a similar tissue type. With my consent, my details were then passed from the NHSBT to Anthony Nolan – a blood cancer charity.
In September, I had a full medical examination at the Hospital in Sheffield (including chest x-ray, ECG, and blood tests) to assess my health, then I was questioned about the health history of my family. A week later I was told I had passed the medical. This week I received eight hormone injections on four consecutive days (GCSF if you're interested) to promote the production of these Stem Cells and force them out of my bones and into my bloodstream. This made me a little bit achy and tired, but nothing major.
Yesterday I attended the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield to donate my Stem Cells. The procedure was completely painless and involved being hooked up to a blood filtration machine for nearly 4 hours which filtered my entire blood supply two-and-a-half times. My blood (4.8 litres) was taken out of one arm and spun in a centrifuge to separate the Stem Cells out and also take some platelets to give to the recipient. The blood was then returned to my body through a cannula in my other arm. This process is called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell collection (PBSC) and is the method used in 90% of these transplants. Most people immediately think that donating bone marrow involves drilling into your hip, but that method actually uses a small needle inserted into the pelvis (under general anesthetic) and is only used in a small number of transplants (~10%).
My Stem Cells (180 millilitres) were then couriered to an NHSBT Lab in Sheffield to check there was enough. They were then taken by another courier directly to the recipient who is anonymous. If there hadn't been enough I would have had to have 2 more injections and go on the machine for a second day.
The Apheresis Unit (Blood Filtration) was on the same floor as the Leukemia Ward so it brought the whole thing home, because a transplant is the absolute last resort for trying to cure someone of their blood cancer. In the next 48 hours, someone, somewhere in the world will receive my donation and hopefully this will cure them. It may give them another 6 months to spend with their family; and essentially can be viewed as buying time; or it may enable them to live a normal life for many years to come. In two years’ time if the recipient wishes, they will be allowed to contact me.
There are currently almost 1,600 people in the UK waiting for a stem cell transplant and 37,000 worldwide. The number of people on the register in the UK is 420,000. And since 1974, Anthony Nolan has successfully overseen about 10,000 bone marrow transplants. They are looking to recruit all of the time and all you have to do is fill in a form and provide a spit sample. Some of the time they are able to find a match from within the family of a patient, but this is not always the case. They are particularly short of Asian donors and male donors of any ethnic background.
Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.