Written by Jemima Burrell
Anthony Nolan now has more than 450,000 names on its register; a staggering number which was increased by the inclusion of these very young people. However, I was recently made aware of the fact that even having a name on the list is costly to the charity, as everyone's data must be kept up to date. In massive countries like America, matches are often found but unfortunately, due to outdated contact information, the donor is not. By the time the decision is made to search national registers for a match, a patient has most likely exhausted all other alternatives - including the prospect of a match from within their own family. This makes the small chance of being matched with a total stranger from anywhere on the planet even more astounding when it does happen.
Like most people, I don't understand the science behind stem cell and bone marrow donations, but when I received an email notifying me that I had been matched to a patient, I gained a sense of how amazing this enterprise is. It's a privilege to be able to potentially save someone’s life through something which essentially has no adverse effect upon you and is relatively easy.
Regardless of how much money you earn, everyone gets sick and I hadn't been exposed to very unwell people in this kind of setting before. An older gentleman was sat opposite me as I had some blood tests done; he had the tell tale signs of chemotherapy - a few tufts of hair left and exhaustion. He just sat and read his paper, the same one my nana reads, and had a cup of tea. I think it is these sort of experiences that make the donation process significant to you, as it is easy to be oblivious in your own bubble of health. It's easier still to forget where the bag of pink fluid that you didn't even know was in you is going. Anonymity is an essential part of the charity and ensures it is ethical. This leaves it up to you to remind yourself of the link at the end of the chain who could be anyone, but is who is someone.
To collect my stem cells, the nurse put a line in each arm - my mum thought I was being exsanguinated until it was pointed out to her that blood went out of one arm but did in fact go back in the other. The blood passed through was looked like a dialysis machine, inside of which there was a centrifuge to separate the parts of my blood they needed, which are then collected in a bag - you can see this in the picture above. I was on the machine for about six hours and couldn't move one arm, but it was a mostly painless process - the worst part was not being able to go to the toilet! The nurse let me know that surplus cells had been collected and this was probably because I am so young; most matches usually come from males between 18-30 due to the high quality of their blood. The bag of pink fluid was then either couriered by one person (who I'm told may only use public transport ) to a location in the UK or frozen and sent to another country. One of these couriers/volunteers visited me whilst the collection was taking place to check everything was going well.
You may have managed to get yourself to one of the Anthony Nolan registering events that took place on campus recently, like the one the GUCFS committee, brand ambassadors and models attended, but if not I would strongly encourage you to keep a look out for more.
Anthony Nolan are constantly recruiting in universities because with so many young people they're a prime place to find good matches.
I'm grateful to have been matched as it’s a very special thing to be able to do - and I hope even more of our students are given the same opportunity in the future.