As we reflect on the impact DKMS has had over the last three decades, we find inspiration not only in the overall numbers, but in the stories of the families whose lives have been changed. This is the story of Alfie, 5, who recently met his lifesaver Christin from Germany.
Alfie Commons, five, from Nottingham was just seven months old when he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Last February, just before the UK entered into the first national Coronavirus lockdown, Alfie and his mother Lorna, met the woman who saved his life.
Christin Bouvier from Schwerin in Germany was matched with Alfie after she registered with DKMS in 2010.
Lorna said: “It was my third visit to the GPs in February 2016 as I was very worried about Alfie’s cold and cough that he had since Christmas. The locum GP told us to go to A&E for further tests as he also was a little concerned. We got to the local hospital in the morning and by early evening, we had the diagnosis: our seven-month old son Alfie had infant acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).
“I was heartbroken, our world completely feel apart. Leukaemia hadn’t even crossed my mind. I was shell-shocked that my innocent baby had cancer. In fact, it was very rare for a baby to develop ALL and because of this, treatment was going to be very difficult. The plan was to treat Alfie with chemotherapy.
"Devastatingly, the first round of chemo failed and at this point, we were told that Alfie’s only chance of survival would be a bone marrow transplant. Worse was to follow. His second course also failed and on the same day, we were told that Alfie’s brother, Billy wasn’t a blood stem cell match for him either. The fear of losing Alfie was overwhelming, I felt helpless but I had to carry on for Alfie’s sake.”
“During the third round of chemo, we had been told that a donor had been identified which was the only good news we’d received since this nightmare began. Because of Alfie’s age and the fact that the chemo was failing, there was no medical protocol on how he should be treated. Alfie’s consultant and two professors had been called in to advise after the third round of chemotherapy failed, and it was decided that Alfie would be put on a trial immunotherapy drug. Against all the odds, it worked and got us to a place where the cancer was going away so the transplant could take place.
“Finally, with the cancer being temporarily abated, Alfie was able to have the transplant. It was a success but he developed Graft versus Host Disease (GvHD) on his skin and in his gut. He did suffer with it for months and it wasn’t nice for him but at least the cancer wasn’t returning.”
In the weeks and months following the transplant, doctors closely monitored Alfie’s progress, and were encouraged to see his body accepting Christin’s stem cells, which were now producing cells of their own.
School teacher Christin, had been on the blood stem cell registry for a number of years before she received a letter, in 2016, to say that she could be a match. Following a number of tests, it was confirmed that she was a match for Alfie.
Christin said: “When they told me that the recipient was a baby – I just cried. After I donated my bone marrow and the anesthetic wore off, I called DKMS as I needed to know more. They told me that Alfie was a small baby and living in the UK. I still can’t describe that moment but so many tears of joy ran down my face. It’s a moment that is always with me and whenever I feel a bit down, I think back to it as it always brings me so much happiness!"
Lorna and Christin started to communicate anonymously via DKMS in London as per UK law and were only permitted to meet after two years after the transplant. Christin added: “In the first letters and cards, we were not allowed to share private information but it was still incredible to hear from Lorna about Alfie. This feeling was only topped when I got the first pictures and videos of him...it was so moving to see him so well and healthy.”
DKMS facilitated a special meeting between Lorna, Alfie and Christin in Chiswick. The event was also attended by DKMS staff and the Mayor of Hounslow.
Christin said: “It was always a dream to meet Lorna and Alfie and I never thought it would happen. I’m very nervous, really nervous but was also very excited to meet them both in person. I think this meeting will be one of those very special moment in my life.
“To be a donor and to have had the chance to save a life has been one of the best moments of my life. I will always be wedded to Alfie; he is such a special, brave boy. I am so proud that I had the chance to be a part of his life. Donating the bone marrow was such an easy and uncomplicated process and nothing compared to what Alfie and his family went through. I was able to help them during this terrible time and to help Alfie fight cancer. So far, this is the best thing that I have done in my entire life.”
Lorna added; “I’m just so proud of Alfie; the odds were always stacked against him and at every step nothing went his way, things only got worse yet he fought so hard to stay exactly where he belongs.”
We are so pleased to report that almost five years after receiving his transplant, and 15 months on from his meeting, Alfie is still doing well. That is thanks to our wonderful donor Christin, and, in part, thanks to DKMS being an international organisation with a clear message: blood cancer knows no borders.
Every day, more than 21 DKMS donors donate stem cells or bone marrow for patients in their local country, or overseas. Stem cells are being delivered by DKMS around the clock. So far, over 92,000 people around the world have received a potentially lifesaving blood stem cell donation through DKMS.