Hayley Leonard is Lead Nurse at Anthony Nolan. She has held many jobs during her medical career, including working as a transplant nurse. But her latest role as a volunteer courier gave her an insight into what it takes to get stem cells to a patient, ready for their transplant to go ahead.
Normally, a team of dedicated Anthony Nolan volunteer couriers ensure that stem cells reach patients who are waiting for their transplant. The coronavirus pandemic has meant many of these committed couriers are unable to volunteer.
Anthony Nolan staff couriers are ensuring transplants can still go ahead. Their trips see them travel between hospitals within the UK, and to and from Anthony Nolan’s emergency hub at Heathrow airport. The hub was set up as international couriers are currently unable to travel to UK hospitals. Hayley’s trip was an early morning journey to Heathrow to collect cells and on to Oxford, where the patient was waiting to undergo their transplant. She explains why she got involved and how she found the experience….
How did you find the courier trip?
I made a plan of my route, where to park at Heathrow and asked my sister to be my buddy to check in with on various parts of the trip. I was nervous and was worried I would forget something important or get up late and not get the tic packs out of the freezer! The little guide to couriering was helpful and had a good checklist that made me feel reassured.
I was up at 06.00 and I left the house at 07.00. The hub at Heathrow was easy to find, Paul (the Anthony Nolan hub coordinator) and the courier who brought the cells to the UK were both really helpful.
The drive to Oxford was quiet as I expected it to be and it was nice to have a change of scene to be honest. The handover was simple and then I was on my way home. It couldn’t have been more straightforward.
This role is very different to your usual work – can you explain what your day job involves?
I lead on the programme which involves Anthony Nolan funding post-transplant Clinical Nurse Specialists and Clinical Psychologists in transplant centres in the UK. I work support them in developing services for patients and families. I am responsible for our education programme for healthcare professionals and for running support days for patient and families. I also contribute to the development of patient information and patient and family support on an online forum, emails and phone calls.
I love being able to work with many healthcare professionals across the UK, collaborating to influence change and improve patient experience. My role still enables me to work with patients and families and support them through their recovery, which is very important to me. I also work in a brilliant team, which always makes coming in to work a pleasure. The challenge is influencing change when not working directly in the NHS.
How has your day job been affected by the current situation with coronavirus?
Fortunately we can all work from home. We have seen an increase in patient and family enquiries, people are understandably concerned with what precautions they should be taking and the mpact on their treatment. Our team has had to work quickly to respond and be up to date with a fast moving situation, which they have done brilliantly. We have had to postpone healthcare professional and patient events which we had planned for the next six months. The way the Clinical Nurse Specialists and Clinical Psychologists are having to work has changed and will be challenging, so my focus is also on supporting them.
Why did you volunteer to act as a courier?
I live near Heathrow and it’s easy for me to get to places like Oxford, Cambridge and London. I wanted to help to keep our services going and getting stem cells from A to B is essential for our patients to still be able to have their transplants. It seemed like the obvious thing to do.
How did you feel when you picked up the stem cells?
I was very aware of how important they were and that someone was relying on me getting them to Oxford safely. Being a nurse and having given stem cells to patients in the past gave me more insight to the anxiety that the patient has until they know the stem cells have arrived in the hospital.
And how did it feel to finally drop the cells off?
I was more relieved than I expected to be, I think I was more nervous than I realised. It is a good feeling though to know you have helped in a small way. Because of my previous experiences as a transplant co-ordinator it was a really nice to be involved with another part of the transplant journey. It helps when you speak to patients and families if you have a better idea of all the processes involved in making a transplant happen.
What was the most memorable aspect of the trip for you? What will you take away from the experience?
Handing the stem cells over and knowing it was done safely and they were where they should be. I will take away that it is a great experience and one that I will continue to do for as long as needed. I felt very privileged actually, to be part of something that makes a real difference and is vital in the transplant process.
Lifesaving transplants can’t stop because of the current coronavirus pandemic. As well as setting up the emergency Heathrow hub, Anthony Nolan is increasing donor health-checks, issuing critical patient grants and searching for UK-based alternative donors for patients whose donated cells are due to come from overseas. To fund this emergency response, we need to raise an extra £10,000 every month that the coronavirus pandemic goes on. Without emergency financial support, stem cell donations could never make it to the patients who are counting on them to survive. Find out more or donate at https://www.anthonynolan.org/coronavirusemergencyappeal