A series of coincidences led Liverpudlian Andy Mitchell to donate stem cells in 2008. Little did Andy know at the time that donating meant not only changing his recipient’s life, but also changing Andy’s life for the better too. Here he tells his story of becoming an Anthony Nolan supporter and living a more fulfilled life.
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In 2004 my wife was due to give birth to our first child. The names we had chosen were Ella and Sam. One evening, we picked up the Liverpool Echo to see a headline asking, “Can YOU save Ella and Sam?” As you can imagine, it really struck a chord with us both seeing those names, and reading that a young brother and sister, from nearby Southport, both needed lifesaving stem cell transplants urgently to survive.
Obviously, despite thinking that donating stem cells would be horrendous, we both joined Anthony Nolan immediately. Sadly, neither of us were found to be a match for Ella or Sam.
However, in February 2008 I received a letter from Anthony Nolan to say that they believed that I may be a match for someone in need of a transplant. It’s difficult to explain the feeling when you receive news like that. It’s quite exciting but also quite scary – I instantly thought about the family of Ella and Sam, as well as the family of this recipient.
After further blood samples, it was confirmed that I was a match, and I was asked if I would be prepared to donate. I didn’t hesitate for one second.
Anthony Nolan didn’t put me under any pressure. The advice and information I received was fantastic. I had no idea that stem cells could be donated via the PBSC process. I was asked if I preferred one method over the other but gave the option to the doctors.
They explained that between 80% – 90% of donations are taken by PBSC and that would be their preferred method.
After having all the tests, it soon became apparent how much of a big deal this was.
My donation dates happened to coincide with my wife’s birthday, and I recall us saying, “Well at least we won’t forget it!”
I donated via PBSC at the London Clinic over a two-day period. It was incredibly straightforward. I’d heard that some people report aches and pains from the GCSF injections you have in the week before donating, but I just felt as though I’d played football or done some gardening.
Honestly, the most painful parts of day one were:
- Needing a wee!
- When the nurse removed the sticky plasters from my hairy forearms!
The next day I had a cunning plan. In the hotel, before heading off to the clinic, I shaved my forearms! Day two was then a breeze!
Once my donation was over, I jumped on the train home from London to Liverpool. I felt a little tired but was buzzing at the thought of what I’d just done.
Within a couple of days of my donation I was invited to help at a donor recruitment event. As the months passed by, I became increasingly involved in donor recruitment events and trained to be a volunteer speaker for the Register & Be a Lifesaver education campaign.
I visited secondary schools and spoke to young adults about the importance of blood, organ and stem cell donation. One of my presentations was at my old secondary school and I was presenting to around 300 sixth form students.
I admit, I was terrified – far more nervous than I had been when donating stem cells! However, I needn’t have worried. The presentation was so well put together and effective that I really enjoyed the experience. I came home buzzing about being back in school and feeling like I’d made a difference!
This whole experience made me realise that life was far too short to be doing a job that didn’t make me happy. So, in 2010, I put plans in place to go to university and train to become an Early Years teacher.
In 2011 I received an anonymous ‘thank you’ card from my recipient. I felt a huge sense of pride that my donation had been successful.
My recipient then put the wheels in motion to arrange for us to meet. When Paul and I met, finally putting a name and a face to the whole process was very humbling. I fully realised that I had helped to save the life of someone’s son, brother, uncle, husband, step-dad, colleague and best friend.
It was then that I was able to say thanks to Paul for helping to change my life, too. He was very confused until I explained that I had left my job of 12 years, and was now studying an education degree at university.
As the years have passed, Paul and I regularly text each other, mainly to discuss football, or to acknowledge the fact that another year has gone by. We’ve experienced some surreal moments together, from live TV interviews to recording a radio commercial for Anthony Nolan in a recording studio in London.
It’s crazy to think that we will soon be celebrating the 10 year anniversary of my donation.
I’ve tried to find words of wisdom, or something inspirational to end this post with, but in all honesty, I just want people to imagine themselves in other people’s shoes. Blood cancer can affect people from all walks of life, it doesn’t care who you are or where you came from.
There are still so many myths around stem cell donation, like it being painful. As I’m now a teacher, opportunities for me to visit other schools are now very limited. So I regularly use social media instead to try to educate people in the hope that more matches can be made and more lives can be saved.