"Being a doctor you see things from the other side. It puts whatever you're going through into perspective"

4 February 2020

This World Cancer Day, we meet Dr Tom Livingston, an acute medicine consultant at the Royal Derby Hospital, who was inspired to sign up with DKMS following his mum’s own battle with blood cancer. She was treated with a blood stem cell transplant which gave her a second chance at life, and now five years later, Tom has been matched with a patient in need of a lifesaver.

We joined Tom at the London Clinic as he donated his blood stem cells to a woman in the USA he has never met, to hear his story…

Tom’s story

“I signed up with DKMS in 2015 which was a year after my mum was diagnosed with Myeloma, which is a type of blood cancer. Then, in June or July of this year, I got the call to say I was a potential match for someone.

“I was sent a pack and did some blood tests to check I was the right match, and then in September, it was confirmed that I was the best match for a patient. So, DKMS arranged for me to have a medical in London, and then subsequently arranged for me to attend the London clinic to give my donation.

“This procedure is something similar to what my mum had done. She was devastated with her diagnosis, but she did amazingly well with treatment – she had her own stem cells taken out and then put back in so she could have a high dose of chemo to destroy the blood cancer cells. Knowing that my blood stem cells have gone to someone to hopefully make them better from their cancer is a really awesome feeling.”

 

The process of donating

“There’s a perception that blood stem cell donation is a painful process, but in 90% of cases it’s done by a peripheral method, so a process very similar to giving blood. I feel quite relaxed – I’m comfortable, I have people waiting on me hand and foot. It’s really no hardship, and an amazing thing to be doing when you consider the impact it will have on someone’s life, and the life of their family.

“The hospital where I work has been very understanding and given me the time off to donate, but I’d had a lot of reassurance from DKMS that if there were any problems getting leave, or any costs incurred, that they would take care of it.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about the person on the receiving end. I think being a junior doctor on hematology wards you see things from the other side, and know what the patient is going through. It’s some of the most intensive treatment a person can have. And again, part of that comes with seeing what my mum had to endure during her treatment. It puts anything I’m going through into perspective.”

 

Dr Manos Nikolousis, a Medical Advisor at DMKS, said:

“As a doctor, I have had the great privilege to oversee countless blood stem cell donations. For some donors, it is a daunting prospect, because of the myths and misconceptions around the process, but once they understand the donation methods and what’s involved, they are reassured. For most donors, the recovery time is very quick and their blood stem cells will regenerate within 4 weeks so there aren’t any lasting effects to the donor.

“Blood stem cell matches are determined by a person’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type and not their blood types. There are thousands of tissue types, and millions of different combinations that exist, so you could be potentially the only match for a person with blood cancer in need of a transplant. You could literally have it in you to save someone’s life.”

 

How you can help

If you’d like to register as a potential blood stem cell donor you can check your eligibility and request a home swab kit today.

Anyone aged between 17-55 and in general good health can go on standby as a potential lifesaver. If you're not eligible or you're already registered, why not check the other ways to get involved in the fight against blood cancer or help us cover donor registration costs?