11 October 2019
Ex-West Ham and England football star Anton Ferdinand is working with DKMS, to urge new potential ‘heroes’ to join the blood stem cell register and be on standby to help save a life.
Ferdinand, 34, who also played in the Premier League for QPR and Sunderland, is working with us after his six-year-old son lost a close friend to blood cancer this summer.
Henry Walker, 5, from Billericay in Essex, was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia in 2018 - a rare condition where the bone marrow does not produce enough blood stem cells. Henry needed an urgent bone marrow transplant, but after an international effort to find a suitable match, the search was unsuccessful, and Henry lost his fight with blood cancer in June.
In his honour, Anton decided to help raise awareness of the need for more blood stem cell donors to join the register to help other people, and children like Henry.
Anton said: “There is a real need for more people to join the register with DKMS. By donating your blood stem cells, you can potentially save someone’s life. That’s what you want to be – a hero. Some people think I’m a hero because I’ve played football, but the real heroes are the people who save lives”.
Anton was also very aware of the impact Henry’s death has had on his son, which came only shortly after he lost his grandmother to cancer.
“There were questions like ‘where has Henry gone?’ ‘Where has he gone now he’s not here, Dad?’ He’d only faced these questions a year before when my mum passed away. But somehow these questions seemed different, because it was a young boy of his own age”.
“He couldn’t understand why someone so young would not be here any more. Henry’s death had a huge impact on him. This is why everyone needs to join the register with DKMS – every person who signs up is a potential lifesaver for someone like Henry, or one of the many other people searching for their match”.
In October, the UK celebrates Black History Month, and Anton has also made a personal appeal to more people from the black minority ethnic community to come forward as potential donors.
He said: “Non-white people are underrepresented on the blood stem cell registry, meaning people from a black, Asian, or ethnic minority background seeking a stem cell donor stand a much smaller chance of finding their match. DKMS urgently need more non-white people to sign up as potential lifesavers”.
In the UK, there are around 2,000 people looking for an unrelated donor at any one time. Currently, 69% of patients can find the best possible match from a stranger, but this drops to just 20% if you're a patient from an ethnic minority background.
Anton, who joined the register himself, hopes one day he will get the call to say he has been identified as somebody’s lifesaving match.
“If I were matched with someone, and was given an opportunity to help save their life, I wouldn’t hesitate. It would be the greatest gift I could give them and their family”.
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?