What it means to be a DKMS Donor Request Coordinator

21 January 2019

Ever wondered what happens behind the scenes at DKMS? We caught up with Nicole, one of our Donor Request Coordinators who helps find matching donors for people with blood cancers and blood disorders, and liaises with our donors to ensure they are well-informed and comfortable with everything ahead of the donation process.

Nicole talks about her role, why it’s so important to update your contact details, how passionate our donors are and why DKMS is a fantastic place to work!

Photo: Nicole sat in centre with rest of Donor Request team

Describe your typical day

A typical day in the life of a Donor Request Coordinator is busy, exciting and always presenting new challenges!

We represent our donors, so our job is to coordinate the donation process from their side; making sure they have everything they need and feel comfortable with the process, and liaise with transplant physicians as requests come in from the patient’s side. Because of the nature of what we do, updates are always coming in, so we need to ensure that we act swiftly.

As we are an international charity, we receive a lot of requests from different countries at all different times. Therefore the first thing I do is check my emails and voicemail to see if there is anything urgent that has come in, for instance from Australia or the USA.

Once we find out that one of our donors has been found as a match for someone, it can be important for the patient that we move quite quickly, so we need to be able to get in touch with the donor easily. This means we are reliant on our potential donors’ contact details being up-to-date.

The work is very challenging, but our donors make it worthwhile.

What’s the best part about your role at DKMS?

The best part about it is getting to work with the donors, from different genders, ethnicities and all different ages, every single day. It’s incredible. They are inspiring. They are so selfless. Our donors go above and beyond and do everything they can to make sure the donation happens. It really is amazing. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

What inspires you to come into work?

I think the inspiration comes when I walk through the door. In our office we have a number of amazing letters and cards from our donors and our patients (depending on where they live they are allowed to write anonymously to each other for a two year period before their identities can be revealed - providing both parties are willing). Sometimes you just have to take the time to go through them, read them and everything just becomes a lot more real.

It’s so personal and a little bit emotional but in a good way, and it just inspires you and makes you want to do everything you can for that patient and donor.

How important is it to offer somebody a blood stem cell donation?

Our donors often tell us how proud they feel to have helped a patient and given them a second chance at life. Their donation goes far beyond the patient. Often, the patient has family and friends and other loved ones, so by donating their blood stem cells, the donor isn’t just helping the patient but everyone around them too.

Thanks to the donor that patient will get to spend additional time with their loved ones making more memories. Whether it’s laughing a little more or just walking the dog, the patient has been given a chance to live and flourish – thanks to the kindness and selfless act of one of our blood stem cell donors.

DKMS donor board with thank you messages

What are the misconceptions around blood stem cell donation?

The biggest misconceptions that donors have is usually regarding the procedure of bone marrow donation. Many people worry about the kind of pain and the time associated with it. But when we talk to our donors and go through everything with them - they see things a little bit differently. We’ve spoken to a lot of donors after the donation process and they’ve said “What’s a few days in comparison to the grand scheme of things?” There’s a patient there at the end of the day and they are more than happy to help.

What are the next steps when someone is identified as a match?

Our donors will go through ‘confirmatory typing’, which is when they will be asked to go for a blood test. If everything is fine their record is then sent to the patient’s team and then they are called for ‘workup’, where donors are sent to me. They’re then sent for a medical assessment just to confirm they are all fit and healthy to go ahead with the donation and then they are able to donate through a peripheral blood stem cell collection (PBSC) or bone marrow collection.

What do most donors feel once they’ve been through the donation process?

When we speak to our donors after the donation, they say they feel a great sense of pride. It’s such a unique experience, and they always highlight the connection they have with this person who is somewhere in the world despite not actually knowing them. And it gives them a new purpose in life, because it’s such a unique experience and they kind of feel like they’re the chosen one for that person. 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

If you've been inspired by Nicole’s story, you might want to consider working for us or becoming a DKMS volunteer.