Fireman Gary becomes a stem cell hero during lockdown

Former firefighter Gary Kirby, 54, from the Isle of Man, had been used to saving people from burning buildings, but receiving an important phone call meant he could be a lifesaver in another way.


A match for a stranger

Gary registered as a blood stem cell donor six years ago and had been on standby to help potentially save a life by donating his blood stem cells. He received a call from us to say he was a match for a stranger in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gary Kirby

Living on the Isle of Man, the independent government ordered their borders to be closed meaning that Gary couldn’t get off the island to do the donation. DKMS wrote personally to the island’s Chief Minister to ask if Gary could travel to mainland Britain to donate his blood stem cells. This was granted. After receiving his exemption certificate from the Isle of Man’s Government, Gary travelled to London where he spent 10 days, initially undergoing a medical, waiting for the results to be returned, getting the OK and undergoing his donation through a peripheral blood stem cell donation.

On return, Gary had to isolate for 14 days per Isle of Man Government’s guidelines. This was a concern for Gary. Initially there was a worry his wife and child might have to stay somewhere else and not be allowed to see him for the duration, but under the circumstances this was a small sacrifice to pay and something that Gary was more than willing to do in order to help save someone’s life.

Raising awareness

Gary says, “I registered as a blood stem cell donor with DKMS after meeting a family whilst on holiday in 2014 who had all signed up as their family friend had a child who was desperately sick. I had never heard of DKMS and was unaware blood stem cell donation was something that could save people living with blood cancers. I recently reached out to the family to tell them my news who have passed it on to the family of the poorly child. They are absolutely delighted someone else has had a match.

"It was a long journey from start to finish; I was unable to work for 24 days but in the grand scheme of things it was a very small price to pay. I shared my donation story on Facebook and was excited when an actual recipient of a stem cell donation reached out and said how lovely it was to hear from the side of the donor.

"I was so impressed with the support DKMS gave me, in these very unusual times they made the process as calm and smooth as possible, even sending me a hamper during my stay in London and also on my return home. The taxi drivers, doctors and medical staff all put me at ease. It has been a very emotionally charged time and I am extremely proud and honoured to have had this opportunity to donate and of course save someone's life (all being well). My aim is to try and get as many signing up from our little Island as possible.”

Gary spoke about his donor experience on Channel 5 News this week. Watch the interview below:

"We were so lucky then - but not enough people are registering now" A mother whose son was saved by a stranger is urging more people to register as stem cell or bone marrow donors to save more lives.@DKMS_UK warns that the number of registrations halved during the pandemic. — Channel 5 News (@5_News) August 18, 2020

How you can help?

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?