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From plasma to blood stem cells: Ricki’s donation journey

March 11, 2024

I started donating whole blood when I was 16 years old as part of my local high school blood donor challenge, and first donated plasma on my 21st birthday. I recall seeing the ABMDR flyers at my local Lifeblood on a few occasions, and finally asked Lifeblood staff about the registry during one plasma donation in my mid to late 20’s.

I figured I was already donating whole blood and plasma regularly, so if I could help others in a similar manner then why not join?

Working in healthcare myself, I understand the incredible impact such actions can have on someone in need. I am incredibly fortunate to not be personally impacted and have someone close to me receive the devastating news that they have blood cancer. However, that never influenced my decision to join the registry.

If the tables were turned and a loved one of mine was seriously ill and their survival depended on an unrelated stem cell donation to increase their chance of survival, I would hope there is a matched donor out there that is willing to make a few small sacrifices to offer my loved one hope and the opportunity to live a healthy life.

It was only 12 months after joining the registry when I was contacted regarding a possible match. I don’t think I really comprehended the significance of what would eventuate at the time. It was a very surreal time but I remember feeling very excited and honored to potentially help somebody going through a difficult time in such a unique and personal way.

From first contact with ABMDR notifying me of a possible match to donation day itself was around three months. After some additional blood tests to confirm I was the best matched donor, I travelled from my regional place of residence to my closest capital city to attend the work up appointment. This involved a few additional tests to ensure I was healthy to continue with the donation and provided an opportunity to ask any further questions. The appointment was very informative and eased any nerves I had surrounding donation day.

As I was donating via PBSC I needed to receive G-CSF injections for several days before donation. A nurse at my local GP clinic did my first injection and showed me the best way to self-administer so I could do the remainder of the injections myself. I knew that if I struggled to give the injections that I could attend my GP clinic at any point and have the nurse do them for me as required.

I was relieved when that donation day had finally arrived. The bone aches and pains from the G-CSF injections were intense at times, but these few extra steps and temporary moments of discomfort seemed trivial in comparison to the journey I envisioned my recipient had been on. The staff at the collection centre were wonderful and ensured I was comfortable throughout the entire procedure.

I recall feeling quite tired but also proud of what I had done in the days following the donation. I knew I had done all I could do and was now feeling nervous but excited and optimistic for the recipient.

I was surprised to learn after my donation just how few people know about the ABMDR registry and how many donations happen annually in Australia from volunteer unrelated donors.

Prior to all this happening, I had never had a conversation with my family or friends about the ABMDR, let alone about being on the registry myself. Again, I contemplated whether or not to tell people when I was selected as the best matched donor and that I was going to proceed with the blood stem cell donation as I didn’t want to make a fuss or let their views or opinions influence my decision.

Now, I think my family and friends are both proud and amazed. I feel some struggle to comprehend doing something like this for a complete stranger, but this only encourages more positive conversations around stem cell donation and the importance of the donor registry.

If I have any advice for someone going through the donation process, it would be that if you are uncertain about anything during the work-up or donation process, make sure you ask lots of questions. ABMDR staff are more than happy to help. Be proud and share your donor experience with those around you, after all what you’re doing for someone in need is nothing short of amazing!

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