'I signed up to be stem-cell donor and this is why I think you should do the same'
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The law around organ donation is changing in England. From spring 2020, all adults will be considered an organ donor when they die, unless they record a decision not to donate or are in one of the excluded groups. According to statistics published by the NHS UK, currently 6,077 patients in the UK are waiting for an organ transplant. While this change in legislation can be seen as a significant success for this campaign and the future of organ donation, it does bring up the question of other forms of donation that could also save peoples lives that do not fall under this new "opt-out" system; one such form being stem cell donation. According to the Anthony Nolan foundation, every 14 minutes someone is diagnosed with blood cancer and over 2,000 people in the UK are in need of bone marrow or stem cell transplants every year. Out of those in need, 75% will not find a matching donor within their families. The shocking truth is that in spite of this only 2% of people in the UK are registered as stem cell donors. Certain demographic groups are being urged to sign up to the register, more specifically men between aged 16-30 and people from BAME backgrounds, as they are significantly underrepresented. I spoke with Daniel Slattery, a 29 year-old restaurant manager from Glasgow, whose own experiences inspired me to join the register. We spoke about his experience joining the register and donating stem cells through the Anthony Nolan foundation. Daniel joined and donated after his cousin John Aitken was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma at 23 years of age, whilst studying maths and statistics at the University of Glasgow.
Image Courtesy of Daniel Slattery
"When it came towards the end, I think the last sort of six months, the doctors had said we could try a stem cell transplant between a donor and John," Daniel says. "The process works by contacting the immediate family first, and once they have done that they extend it to extended family. "So we all went through it, even my little sister - and she was only 16 or 17 at the time - and unforuntately, none of us was a match. After there were no matches he went on the national register run by Anthony Nolan, and unfortunately there were no matches." Daniel continues: "At the time they asked us to be donors I asked: 'How can I get involved in this?' because I wasn't a match for John, I still wanted to help somebody else. They gave me the link and I did what everybody else has done: filled out the registration process, did the spit test, and that was me on the register." "All I can say is how easy it is. Once you are on there, you can almost forget about it. They'll send you periodical updates and say 'This is what's happening in the charity' or 'Do you want to take part in a fundraiser?' but you don't have to do any of that. You just have to be there and (you) might never even get called, or you might be like me and get called after six months." A common fear associated with stem cell extraction is the pain, an idea supported by movies like My Sister's Keeper triggering images of huge needles and screamingly painful bone marrow extraction. However, 90% of donations actually take place via peripheral bloos stem cell (PBSC) collection. This is a procedure similar to giving blood. It takes around five hours and a simple outpatient procedure.
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