On 16 February 2023, Mark met Ivor, the patient who received his donation and whose life he saved.
Location: Lives in Essex.
Occupation: Railway worker.
What amusing or interesting phrase do you think the initials DKMS could stand for in English?: 'Donation Knowledge [means] More Stem cells.
I was inspired to join the register by a young boy called Tyler Sedden, from Rhode Island, United States.
Tyler was suffering from leukaemia for the second time. His mum, fearing that his next birthday could be his last, put out a simple request on a local Facebook page for some of his heroes - emergency service and military personnel - to attend his birthday. This request slowly went global - I heard about it from a police Facebook page in the UK.
Along with the request for attendance at his birthday, his mum was also arranging blood drives to try and find him a match; I found the information and joined the register.
I continued to follow Tyler's birthday celebrations as they progressed. I was amazed to see how many gifts and cards people sent from all over the world: so many the local post office had to take on extra staff to cope and they had to get a 40ft container to hold all the gifts and cards.
The venue for Tyler's party also had to be changed. More space was needed to make for the vast numbers who had confirmed they would be attending and the accompanying convoy of emergency and military vehicles, which, I believe, was the longest convoy ever seen in the USA.
I had been on the register for about a year when I got the call to say I was a match. It felt amazing that I could actually be asked to do what I had signed up for. I also thought about the patient and how they must be feeling knowing that there is hope.
However, I tried not to get too carried away as I was aware that I was not the only match and that many tests had to be done to ensure I could donate.
It was not long before I was confirmed as the best match and was asked if I still would donate. Of course, the answer was yes. I knew nothing of the patient I was donating to. When I actually did the donation I was told they were an adult male and that they lived in the UK but that was all I knew.
The donation process was really easy and simple; I have never been so well looked after. My kids loved the nurse who visited to give me my pre-donation injections and loved helping her. I was kept fully informed of the process and side effects. The injections did make my bones ache a bit but nothing that could not be controlled with simple pain medication.
Then it was off to London for the donation itself. I was seen by staff at the hospital who not only thanked me for what I was doing but also checked to make sure I was still ok with donating.
I was given some numbing gel to use the next morning and we retired to the hotel for the night. The next morning it was up early and off to the hospital. I was again checked and then set up ready for donation.
Stem cell donation is much like giving blood, with a needle in one arm to take the blood out but also a needle in the other arm to put it back in. I was told that due to a drug to help thin the blood being used I might feel a bit drunk as my calcium levels dropped, a side effect of the drug and I was to tell them if this happened as they had set up a calcium drip ready. And then the process began, with my blood coming out of one arm to fill the centrifuge, I heard that spin and then saw the plasma and stem cells slowly fill the bags.
I did start to feel a bit drunk and was immediately put on the calcium drip and brought back to normal in no time. Five and a half hours later I was sat very relaxed in my comfy chair with a full bag of stem cells and a bag of plasma to help them during the transplant. A quick check to see how many cells they had harvested: 10.3 million was the count, which was plenty, so no need for a second-day donation.
We stayed in the hotel that night and were treated to a lovely meal compliments of DKMS.
I feel very excited to finally be meeting Ivor but also a little nervous too - I can't explain why. However, I am very much looking forward to it and feel very privileged that I not only get to meet the man I saved, but also be part of the 10th-anniversary celebrations of DKMS in the UK.
My hopes for 2023 are to stay happy and healthy and to continue to watch my children grow and enjoy life. I am sure Ivor and I will have many more get-togethers throughout the year too. I also plan to get my kayaking challenge up and running for 2024. There is a lot to plan and do so will be nice to get that underway. I would also like to see the stem cell register grow and help with that if I can.
As a donor, I feel I have a very personal connection with DKMS and with the amazing work they do - almost like I am part of the team. I have a real desire to see it continue to be the success it has been and see it help save many more lives.
Before I was made aware, I had never heard of DKMS or in fact stem cell donation. It amazes me still that people do not know about it or how easy it is. My hope is that sharing my own personal experience with people will help get the word out there and encourage more to get on the register.
Personally, I feel that people should be automatically placed on the register for everything - blood, organs, stem cells - and have to opt-out. At least then the various registers would be as full as they could be and people will have the option to say no. I know that is a very difficult thing to do, but my view is it should be that way round.