25 year old Daniel O’Brien from Nottingham has travelled to Germany this week to meet the man whose life he saved. Daniel donated some of his blood stem cells to Marco Wehser, a 39 year old man from Germany who needed a blood stem cell donation to treat the leukaemia that he had. Daniel was anonymously matched as a donor for Marco, who had been appealing with the donor recruitment charity DKMS in Germany to encourage more people to register as potential donors. Daniel made his donation on August 3 2012 after registering as a potential donor with the British Bone Marrow Register.
Daniel had his blood stem cells collected via a peripheral blood stem cell donation to be donated to Marco. Marco has been able to do many of the things that he has always wanted to do since Daniel saved his life. The most important has been to become a father when his wife gave birth to twin boys two years go. Marco brought his toddler sons, Finn and Paul, to Dortmund airport on Monday to meet Daniel as he arrived in Germany.
Describing what it was like to meet the man who saved his life, Marco said: “I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep the night before. We fell into each other’s arms and it was like we had always known each other. I am overwhelmed and eternally grateful for what Daniel has done for me. My twin boys really keep me on my toes and it was very important to me to finally be able to show them to Daniel.”
Explaining what it was like to meet the man whose life you saved, Daniel said: “It was a very moving moment for me. I didn’t think twice about donating my blood stem cells – when people need my help, I’m there for them.”
Daniel and Marco visited the DKMS headquarters in Cologne on Tuesday to speak to the charity about supporting their continuing mission to recruit more people around the world as potential donors.
Corinna McShane, Head of Marketing and Communications at DKMS in the UK, said: “Being able to save the life of a stranger is one of the most incredible things a person can do. Daniel was able to meet, not only the man whose life he saved, but also the little boys Marco’s second chance of life enabled him to have. That must have been very, very special. If you live in the UK and you’re aged between 17 to 55 you could also be a potential life saver like Daniel. Simply register online at our website www.dkms.org.uk and request a cheek swab kit.”
Speaking about the meeting, David Winstone, Operations and Planning Manager, NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “This is a remarkable story, and the meeting of these two strangers with a unique bond brings home how stem cell donations really do save and improve lives. Thanks to Daniel, Marco is able to live his life and start his own family. Daniel has done something amazing for someone he had never met who was in desperate need, so he and his family should feel rightly proud. In about 30% of cases, a matched donor will be found from within the family, however for the remaining 70% of patients we need to look for a matched unrelated donor. So, registers such as NHS Blood and Transplants’ British Bone Marrow Registry have been set up which hold the details of people who are willing to donate their stem cells to help treat any patient, anywhere, which is how Daniel and Marco were matched and the lifesaving transplant was able to take place. More patients are receiving a potentially lifesaving stem cell transplant than ever before, thanks to people like Daniel. To join NHS Blood and Transplants’ British Bone Marrow Registry you can join when you donate blood and meet our eligibility criteria - find out more at www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/bonemarrow.”
For many blood cancer and blood disorder patients, a blood stem cell donation is their only chance of survival but many patients never find the lifesaving blood stem cell donor match they need. That is because there are more than 16,000 known HLA (human leukocyte antigen) tissue characteristics that can occur in thousands of combinations and the donor and patient must have at least eight HLA characteristics in common to be considered a match but ideally should have 10.
If someone registered to donate is matched with a patient, they will donate via one of two methods. The most common type of donation is peripheral blood stem cells collected via the blood stream, and around 90 per cent of donations are made this way. The other is a donation of bone marrow collected from the back of the pelvic bone, not the spine.