Dorothy meets her blood stem cell donor, Mario

30 August 2017

A meeting between a blood stem cell recipient and their donor is always an emotional event. There was no exception when Graeme’s wife, Dorothy, met her donor earlier this year. Graeme has now told their amazing story, from Dorothy’s original diagnosis all the way to the moment they met…

Dorothy meets her blood stem cell donor, Mario

In the Spring of 2013 my wife Dorothy started to feel unwell. She visited her GP a few times complaining of feeling ’headachy’ and very tired. Her GP put her symptoms down to a virus.

She also started getting very bad nosebleeds and was referred twice to hospital to have her nose cauterised. Then bruises started to appear on her body and this time her GP ordered blood tests.

On Thursday 18th July 2013 she was admitted to the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy and we were told that she had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Her consultant said “we are going for cure”.

To say we were shaken is to put it mildly - not for one minute had we expected a diagnosis like this.

The treatment regime was described to us and the chemotherapy was to start on 22nd July - we watched Only Fools and Horses together whilst waiting, with Dorothy laughing out loud. Talk about brave!

The chemotherapy regime was twice daily (Monday to Friday) in week one and Monday to Thursday on week two. There would then be a break whilst the blood counts recovered and rose again between days 22 to 40 post-chemotherapy. This process would be repeated four or five times which would see us through to the end of 2013.

Our daughter Laura was due to get married on 30th November 2013 and Dorothy became upset when she realised she would still be receiving treatment and would miss the wedding. Laura and her fiancé Stuart said there was no way the wedding would go ahead until Dorothy had recovered, so it was postponed.

On day 42 after the chemotherapy finished, the doctors confirmed that tests showed that Dorothy had aplastic anaemia - in other words her bone marrow was not able to produce her red blood cells, her white blood cells and platelets, and she was told she needed a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

In early November 2013 we were told that a 10/10 match had been found - a 39-year-old German male.

The transplant was to take place on 11th December 2013 at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow, and on 28th November Dorothy was admitted to receive the conditioning chemotherapy in preparation. This is a fierce chemo programme designed to kill any trace of leukaemia and also to remove any of her own immune system still remaining.

The transplant itself was not the actual operation some of us thought. The bag of stem cells were transplanted via Dorothy’s Hickman line. We chatted with her and her nurse throughout the process.

We waited for engraftment and after a few months her blood type changed from O+ to B+, which is the same as the donor. As her donor was allergic to penicillin, Dorothy became allergic to it as well. It was mind boggling!

Dorothy had several complications both pre and post transplant which caused concern, but all the way through our wonderful family, as well as the doctors, nurses and other staff kept us going! Nothing phased the wonderful staff in Kirkcaldy, Dunfermline and Glasgow who looked after her and we will never forget their expertise, kindness, care, humour and hugs.

In March 2014 we received a card from the donor which didn't leave a dry eye in the house. It was very non-specific - no names, places, or anything like that, but glued on the card was a cardboard cut out of an angel above which the donor had written - ”the angel will shelter you, and I'm sure he’ll do it well”.

In October 2014 Laura and Stuart were married, and Dorothy, whilst unable to dance the night away, was there. It was a very emotional day and family and guests raised a glass to Dorothy’s unknown German donor.

Since the transplant, we have seen our other two daughters marry. Again, at both of these celebrations, all family and guests raised a glass to Dorothy’s German donor.

We also became grandparents for the first time in February this year and there is another grandchild due in January!

Without a blood stem cell transplant Dorothy would not have seen her daughters being married or met her grandchildren.

We had been corresponding with the donor since the first card was received and in October last year we received a letter (still very non-specific) in which the donor said that he hoped that someday he would be able to meet Dorothy.

Dorothy discussed this with staff at the Beatson and we started the process of exchanging names as we too wanted to know more about the donor who had saved her life.

In January this year we received an email from Anthony Nolan which included the donor’s name and address.

I Googled his name and city where he lived and amazingly, up came a picture of the donor (whose name is Mario), actually donating his stem cells - he had been featured in a blog. Dorothy emailed Mario enclosing photographs of our family and of course thanking him for the wonderful thing he had done and for saving her life.

He replied with photographs of his own family and was thrilled to know that his donation had made such a huge difference and that Dorothy had recovered. He told us that he was coming to tour the UK on his bicycle and asked if he could meet her.

Of course we agreed and invited Mario to stay with us during his trip. It was wonderful to meet him and hugely uplifting and emotional at the same time.

Mario told us that he had been on the registry for six years before he received the call saying that he was a potential match. His cells were harvested in Germany and Dorothy had her transplant the next day. We all found that incredible!

Dorothy and I have invited Mario to visit again but this time with his family, and he in turn has invited us to his home in Germany.

I have written this hopefully to give hope to families who may be starting this journey - and hopefully also to inspire some to join the stem cell register and become potential lifesavers.

Thanks to Graeme for sharing his Dorothy's, and Mario’s story!

Have you been inspired by their story? If you are in good health and are aged between 17 and 55, you can register as a potential blood stem cell donor, just like Mario did.

If you are already registered or are unable to, why not check out some other ways to get involved in the fight against blood cancer?