By George Watkins
About six months ago, on a particularly slow Saturday morning, I came across volunteers for a charity called Anthony Nolan, encouraging me to put myself on the stem cell register, in the hope that one day I would match with someone suffering from blood cancer needing an emergency transplant, and might be able to save a live. I said yes, and last month I found out that I have indeed matched with someone. My blood tests have been sent off to confirm the match, and in the meantime I wanted to do more, running the Cardiff Half Marathon for the charity. When I’ve told people what the register is, they’ve seemed to not know what it is, and just how important it actually is.
Every 20 minutes, someone in the UK finds out they have blood cancer, such as lymphoma or leukaemia. As part of illnesses like this, their cells become extremely damaged, so they need a healthy person with the same tissue type to help replace and repair their own. Currently, Anthony Nolan has about 500,000 people on the register, but this is not enough. 70% of sufferers need a donation from a source outside their family, which puts immense pressure on the register to find a match.
So how do I join? At Cardiff University, you’re very lucky, as there are regular opportunities to join on campus. The process involves a donation of saliva and a few forms, and then you’re ready to go. You can also request the kit from their website.
What happens if I’m a match? You’ll receive a notification form Anthony Nolan by email or text, with the news, and they’ll confirm you’re still on the register, before asking you to arrange a blood donation so they can double check that you suit the match. If you pass this stage, then you’ll be asked to book a date in a donation centre to give your stem cells.
How do they do it? 90% of donors will go through a process called peripheral blood stem cell collection, where you have a small tube inserted in your arm connected to a machine which filters your blood for the stem cells. It only takes a few hours. Otherwise, you will be put under anaesthetic and have the stem cells removed form your pelvis by syringe and needle.
It sounds worse than it is. The important thing is that a donation is often the last or only option for someone in this position, which is why it is absolutely vital that the register continues to grow in size. There is a particular shortage of young men like me. Give it a try. You could save a life. Their website is anthonynolan.org.