18 January 2019
In 2013, Chris made the decision to become a blood stem cell donor at a donor drive that was taking place at his work.
Five years later Chris was selected to become someone’s lifesaver and donated his blood stem cells through a bone marrow collection.
Chris decided to capture his donation experience on video to raise awareness of blood stem cell donation, to help others decide whether to take the first steps to register or help someone should they be identified as a match.
“I made a conscious decision to register as a blood stem cell donor in 2013 after DKMS visited my work place to encourage employees to sign up.
It was pretty easy taking the first step to register and I didn't really give it another thought. Fast forward to May 2018 (almost five years later). My partner and I were watching TV and a story came up about blood stem cells donation – literally two days after this I received a call from DKMS to say I was a potential match for someone.
When I heard this I didn’t even give it a second thought. If I could help somebody then I would 100% do it, so I confirmed that I would be happy to help.
I learnt more about the different ways that they take the blood stem cells: a peripheral blood stem cell collection, which is a little like donating blood where they take blood from one arm, then filter out the blood stem cells, and put it back in the other arm, or through a bone marrow collection. They wanted to ensure that I would be happy to donate through both methods.
They sent me a blood sample kit and organised for me to go to my doctor where they took four little tubes of blood, which I posted back to DKMS. After a short period DKMS called to say the blood were all clear and we were waiting for confirmation whether I would be needed.
Being a Lifesaver
Photo: Chris ahead of his blood stem cell donation
I received another call saying that I was pretty much the first choice. I think it was at that point where I thought ‘wow this could actually happen – I could be someone’s lifesaver’. I felt quite privileged to be in this great position to help save someone's life.
I was told that the bone marrow collection would be the best method for the patient. Whilst I had been fully aware this could be one of the options, I was still a little apprehensive. It would mean a general anaesthetic, a couple of nights in hospital plus the recovery period.
That said, I was totally committed and the procedure would be nothing compared to what someone with blood cancer is going through. Without me their chances of survival would be really slim… how could I say no to that?
It would be perhaps a week out of my life. Whilst I’ve never had a general anaesthetic before. It would be low-risk, so it was worth it in my eyes.
DKMS were really good in organising everything for me. I found out so much more information about the bone marrow collection, what was going to happen on the day, what the next steps would be and what happens afterwards including; follow-up blood tests a month afterwards, six and then twelve months. So they keep an eye on you to make sure everything's okay and that your blood stem cells have regenerated (it usually takes just a couple of weeks).
Something that really hit home more than anything else during the conversations was that the patient, who was going to receive my blood stem cells, would have to through quite an intensive round of chemotherapy before they can accept my blood stem cells - otherwise it would just get rejected.
The chemotherapy basically weakens their immune system, so they're in a very vulnerable position. The next part of the conversation was not to frighten or scare me off but if during the weeks running up to the actual donation I decided not to go through with it, then the likelihood of the patient surviving without it would be really slim.
That was quite a shock to me and was one of the things that worried me the most about the whole process – not actually doing it but what happens if for some reason I can’t donate? That person is so reliant on it for a second chance at life and without it they could die.
I had to go through some more additional testing at the clinic where I would eventually be donating. The staff were really nice and friendly and put you at ease. It took a couple of hours to get through everything. I had to fill in a questionnaire, have my bloods and blood pressure taken, do a urine sample, ECG and chest x-ray, and had a discussion with the consultant and sign consent forms.
Apart from a few additional blood tests after this, the next stage was the actual donation and trying to pinpoint a time when the transplant could take place – so I had to remain fairly flexible. I was conscious in the lead up to stay fit and well ahead of the donation, as I didn’t want anything to jeopardise me donating.
The night before the donation I started to get a little bit nervous – I hadn’t really been nervous up until this point but it kind of felt like an out-of-body experience.
On the day the nerves were still there, I had butterflies and I was feeling a little bit sick. I had never gone under general anaesthetic before, so it was probably to be expected.
The only thing I know about the patient was that they were American. So it was amazing to think that my blood stem cells were winging their way over to someone who really needed them.
Following the collection my blood pressure was a little low and I was feeling a bit sick and couldn’t really eat or drink anything at first. Once I did, though, I felt a lot better – my discomfort and recovery is such a small price to pay to help someone survive.
Photo: Chris before and after his blood stem cell donation
A massive thank you, Chris, for donating your blood stem cells and for writing this inspiring and encouraging story. You’re a true hero! Someone somewhere has had a second chance at life because you made the time to donate!
Don’t think – act it!
If you are thinking about registering, then I would say do it! It means you're there on the registry in case somebody needs your help. You never know what might happen in the future so please sign up, put yourself on the register, it’s dead easy.”
If you’d like to register as a potential blood stem cell donor you can check your eligibility and sign up 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?