Best friends joined by a lifesaving bond

30 July 2019

This National Friendship Day (30 July) we’re celebrating two best friends who, against all odds, were each identified as a match for two people with blood cancer in urgent need of a blood stem cell transplant. Here is their story…

Best friends

Emma Francis, 43, from Holsworthy in Devon, and Kelly Roach, 40 from Appledore in Devon, met in 1991 and became firm friends at school, remaining close ever since.

In 2008, Emma’s father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Fortunately it was caught at an early stage, and 11 years later he remains in remission. This inspired Emma to become involved with DKMS and join the UK’s aligned stem cell registry.

Emma said: ‘I remember looking in the mirror doing my swabs, wondering if this would be a life line for somebody. I just had a weird feeling about it, it’s like I knew.”

Emma’s donation

Emma’s instinct proved correct, because despite there only being a 4-5% chance of registered donors being matched with someone with an identical tissue type, Emma received a call from DKMS just a few months later informing her she had been matched with a patient in New Zealand, who was in desperate need of a blood stem cell transplant.

“I was totally overwhelmed. It was a really strange mixture of feelings – on the one hand so sad that somebody was in a desperate need of help, but I was so excited that I could potentially offer them the help they needed.”

Following her donation, Emma took to Facebook to encourage her friends and family to also consider registering with DKMS to become potential lifesavers. A number of her friends and family signed up, including her best friend of nearly 30 years, Kelly Roach.

Kelly’s donation

Incredibly, just three months after signing up, Kelly too was matched with a patient, this time with a young child needing an urgent transplant, and she attended the London clinic to donate her blood stem cells.

Kelly said: “Emma was the first person I called and said, ‘Guess who I just had a call from?!’ Emma came with me to London on donation day, I wouldn’t want to have taken anybody else. We are best friends and have a really special bond.”

“People have said to me that it’s such an amazing thing to do, but when I hear about small children who have been in and out of hospital for weeks, months, or years on end, affecting their whole family, I don’t consider taking a day out of my life to be a huge sacrifice.”

‘Extraordinarily rare’

Helen Kelly, Head of Donor Request Management at DKMS said: “Once registered, there’s only a small chance of being found to be a match for someone in need. So it’s extraordinarily rare for two best friends to both be called upon to give a donation. We are so thankful to Emma and Kelly, and delighted that they were able to support each other and share in the unique experience of giving two people in need a second chance at 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?