After registering with the British Bone Marrow Registry, Sam was a match for a patient in the autumn of 2016, and donated his stem cells to give them a second chance of life. Here, he shares his amazing story.
Donating your stem cells is one of those things in life that I never thought I’d be able to say I had done. Signing up to the register when I was a skinny little 17-year-old, I had no idea that one day I would be saving someone’s life. I had been along to a few blood donation sessions, because my Mum had gone for about 20 years and I admired the dedication she had to it, when I was handed a leaflet about the British Bone Marrow Registry.
I had a read while I waited, and thought ‘Why not?’, so I filled out the form and that was it. I remember the blood donation carers taking one extra vial of blood to send away to the registry, but that was the only difference to a normal blood donation.
A perfect match
It was six years later, while at work designing websites and logos, that I got a text out of the blue from the BBMR saying I was a potential match. Initially I thought it was the usual PPI texts you get, but on second glance I was taken aback and humbled at what it said.
That evening I went home and told my Mum; she was delighted and urged me to phone them immediately, which I did.
A few days later I received a blood test kit in the post and was in the unique circumstance of my Mum being a Phlebotomist (someone who is trained in taking blood from patients for testing) so she was able to get the samples needed at home, however normally this would happen at a GP surgery.
The next time I heard from the BBMR was while on holiday in Verona, Italy. This time the text message said clearly that I was a perfect match for the patient, I turned to my girlfriend and said ‘I’m a match’, and her face lit up. I felt happy and honoured that my stem cells were going to potentially save someone’s life, and end the pain their family and friends were going through. I actually couldn’t wait to get back to the UK to call back, so rung the BBMR straight away in the middle of Verona train station to confirm the next steps.
At this stage I was handed over to Anthony Nolan, who were so supportive and amazing throughout the whole process. They arranged the medical, which basically checked I was fit and healthy to donate, this went as smooth as anything and the date of donation was sorted out.
The next stage was the GCSF injections; these are needed to build up the stem cells in your body, so you have a whole bunch to donate. I was told about some of the side effects, and did have a few minor ones including tiredness, a dull lower back ache, and a few minor headaches, but nothing Paracetamol didn’t sort out! I carried on with work just fine on the four days leading up to donation day.
Donation day came, and for a normally quite nervous person, I was so relaxed! I had been reassured throughout and had nothing in my mind to worry about. The donation took about 5 and half hours altogether and I thought boredom would kick in majorly, but not at all.
I binge-watched a couple of Netflix episodes, had some lunch, played a few phone games and before I knew it the nurse said I had 20 minutes left to go. It was actually quite nice to have the chance to sit and do nothing for a day, while the machine did all the work with my blood.
A lot of people I speak to about donating blood and now donating stem cells, always ask about the pain, but I can honestly say that the pain is very minimal throughout the whole process. The phrase ‘sharp scratch’ that nurses say before the needle goes in is a good representation of the pain. I always think that there is a lot worse pain I could be feeling than a tiny needle going into my arm!
The stem cell donation, with today’s medical technology, is very donor-friendly and went without any problems.
Why you should join the register
To anyone who is umming and awing about signing up to the register, or who hasn’t even considered it, I would say it’s one of the best things I have done in my life and makes me feel good every day knowing that I’ve helped someone who truly needed it. If you have five minutes to spare to read this blog, why not join now?
To learn more about the British Bone Marrow Registry, click here.