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Reflections: Donating Stem Cells

This post is a little different to my usual posts. 4 years ago today I donated stem cells to an anonymous patient after being identified as a match on The Antony Nolan Foundation register. The Antony Nolan Foundation saves lives of people with blood cancer by matching them with people willing to donate stem cells or bone marrow. Here’s an overview of my experience…

I initially signed up to the register following the viral campaign ‘Shake for Mike‘ in 2014. In which Mike Brandon and his partner Kate Robertson were raising awareness in the hope of finding a match for Mike. It was easy to sign up to the register online and the organisation simply send out a kit to collect a saliva sample so they know who’s a match. Unfortunately I wasn’t a match for Mike.

I didn’t really think much about it until in early 2016 I was identified as a potential match for someone who needed a donor. I agreed that I’d like to go ahead with further testing and was sent another kit for a blood sample (you can pop into your GP and get this done).

I soon heard back that I was a match for the anonymous patient.

I had a conversation with my Stem Cell Donation Coordinator from Anthony Nolan to discuss the process and confirm I was happy to consent at that point. I then went to London for a day trip for a medical to check I was fit to donate and that there would be no risk to me. It was by far the most thorough medical examination I’ve ever had! and was actually quite interesting for me. Antony Nolan arranged my travel and sent me the tickets (and directions in advance). They can also reimburse for lost income if you want, but I didn’t claim for this.

At this medical I also had another interview with a doctor, who talked me through the process in more detail and I officially signed my consent forms. I gave agreed to donate bone marrow and/or stem cells – depending on what was needed. The Doctors ask for permission to do both, but explain it’s most likely that the bone marrow donation won’t be needed.

On the week up to donation, an Antony Nolan Nurse visited me at work/home (depending where I’d booked) to inject me with a growth factor to encourage me to produce more stem cells so that they can be harvested through my blood (instead of through bone marrow). The exact science of this is probably slightly wrong! But the nurses were really nice!

The donation days we’re just as straight forward. The Antony Nolan Foundation arranged all the travel and accommodation for me and someone to support me. I went up to London the day before and then spent 2 days in hospital reading comics whilst hooked up to a very fancy machine which separated the stem cells from the blood – so I could have the rest of it back… again, excuse my lack of medical knowledge! It was painless and again all the staff were lovely. I even laughed with the lady next to me about how she was enjoying the time to chill out and watch day time telly without interuptions from her kids!

Again, they paid for my expenses and offered to cover loss of earnings (which I didn’t claim). I even got the opportunity to send a ‘Get Well Soon’ card addressed ‘Dear Recipient’ through the foundation. I later received a thank you from the patient and their family, again anonymously through the foundation.

Shortly after donating, I did this interview to explain my experience. Reading it back, it feels a bit cringe… I remember at the time, everyone seemed so proud of me, but it didn’t feel like it was that big a deal to me. I felt honored that I could help – but the process it’s self was so easy and convenient, I felt a bit uncomfortable that I was getting ‘credit’ for something that others have done the hard work on. I’ve also appeared on the radio and in magazines, anonymously talking about my experience as a donor.

If you are considering joining the register, or want to donate to support The Antony Nolan Foundation, there’s more information here.

If you have any questions about my experience of donating, please feel free to contact me.

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