Stewart explains what it was like to donate his bone marrow to a paediatric patient
About 13-14 years ago I went in to give blood at the Red Cross blood bank but due to a recent tattoo I wasn’t allowed to. I was asked if I would consider going on the registry, also known as Strength to Give, and I thought why not, may as well! Patients who don’t match a family member have to rely on strangers to get a match, and this can equate to a 1 in 1 million chance of getting a match! So anyway, I though hey what’s the harm, I won’t get matched!! Fast forward 6 months or so, and I get a random call…. It’s the registry to inform me I am a match!! Considering that the samples are on a worldwide database it could be anyone in the world I was matched with. Turns out it was a child who had so far not been affected by ANY treatments!
“So, I was excited but also very nervous as I had never done anything remotely close to this before!”
So, I was excited but also very nervous as I had never done anything remotely close to this before! But off I went and over the next 2-3 months, I had extensive medical examinations to ensure everything was tip top before giving my bone marrow. Turns out I was in great shape, so the plan was fully set in motion. During the time of me getting checked and prepped for it all, the child was undergoing extreme chemo where basically every cell in the body is wiped out. It is timed to perfection I was told so that within 3 hours of me having the bone marrow removed, my recipient would receive it and in basic terms my immune system would create a new one for my recipient.
Now normally the process is like giving plasma at the blood bank. They take the blood out of one arm, separate the blood stem cells, and put the rest of the blood back in the other arm. However due to the age of the child and the severity of their condition, it had to be done directly from my hip bones! So, I went in for surgery for the first time in my life and had a couple of small slits on the top of my hip and a needle was inserted to remove the stem cells. I was obviously out of it for this, but when I woke up about 6 hours later there were the bone marrow people with the HUGEST hamper I had ever seen!!
“I went in for surgery for the first time in my life and had a couple of small slits on the top of my hip and a needle was inserted to remove the stem cells.”
Unfortunately, there is a rule that no contact is permitted between the two parties due to privacy, etc. So I was told by the bone marrow people that the transplant was a success and that it had taken!!
I was ecstatic!!
The sad part was though that about 9 months later I rang up to change my address with the registry and was told that unfortunately the young child had died about 3 months earlier due to other complications. That was the saddest day in my life.
My advice for any donors would be to just go with the flow of it all. The process is easy, every single staff member from Strength to Give and the hospital staff are amazing support with it all at every step, and even if there is discomfort the patient you are helping is going through so much worse! Plus, there’s a little bit of selfishness and pride as well…… How many people can say they have given bone marrow to a stranger so they might live and enjoy life longer?