In 2004, Anthony Nolan found a stem cell donor for businessman Eric Evans – in the form of Axel Drewes, a young baker living in Germany, who’d signed up to the DKMS register (the German branch of Delete Blood Cancer).
Axel would end up donating stem cells to Eric again over the next decade. Over time, a remarkable friendship grew between the two men; one that’s chronicled in Eric’s upcoming autobiography, ‘Diamonds for Rice‘.
In today’s blog, Axel answers some of our questions about his donation, his friendship with Eric, and why it’s so important to join a donor register.
Why did you sign up?
There was a two-year-old child called Moritz who lived in a village near Nieheim. He had developed blood cancer. DKMS, with nearly six million people on their register, were looking frantically for a match. More than 4,000 people came forward immediately to try to help. A match was found for Moritz, and he is alive and well. I waited for the call to see if I would be a match for anyone else…and I was!
What is it like, donating bone marrow?
It is so easy!!! It is just like donating blood. You have one needle in each arm. In one arm, the blood with the stem cells flows out of your body into a machine. This collects the cells and the rest of the blood flows into the other arm. The process takes around four hours. It is a great feeling to help people who you have never met!
I missed the birth of Lena during one of my procedures for Eric. I am so sorry for Stefanie, because she was alone at that time when she needed me. But we both knew that a man’s life was at stake here. We did the right thing, and have three lovely children at the end of the day.
How did you feel about not knowing whose life he was saving?
It was no problem for me, not knowing his name. I think everyone should do this if they are fit and healthy. It feels very worthwhile to save lives, so people should go on the databases.
How did you feel when you met Eric for first time?
When Stefanie and I went to the airport in Marbella to meet Eric I was very nervous. I didn’t know what kind of man he would be. I knew not much about him, really. What would he say? What would he think about me? As soon as we spoke there was no problem. I discovered that Eric is a great man who now has a great story to tell and he deserves to live. I never regretted my decision for even a small second.
Can you describe the bond that has developed between the two of you?
After the transplant we were able to write letters for two years with crossed-out names, home town etc. Reading these letters I feel that we are on the same level. After the two years we wrote a lot of e-mails to each other. I feel more and more that I have a super friend in the UK. What a friend this genetic twin is.
What would your message be to anyone who is considering becoming a donor?
Dear People in UK,
Please get on the register and help people with blood cancer. There is no easier way to save a life of a person. Where the medicine doesn’t work any more we need you to help the ill people. You might be ill one day – you never know, and your life must be saved. All my best wishes, Axel.