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I was back to work the next day

October 17, 2022

Courtney Millar was “strangely excited” when she genetically matched with a blood cancer patient in desperate need of a stem-cell transplant.

The 27-year-old hospital clerk signed up to donate blood stem cells nine years ago via Strength to Give, part of the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry. At the time, Courtney had started donating blood and was on a mission to help others.

“I was trying to (sign up to) everything at once,” she says, “so I did organ donation, bone marrow, blood. I was just trying to make sure I was on the registry for everything.”

Almost a decade later, when Strength to Give matched her with a sufferer of blood cancer or disease, Courtney was more than ready to help.

While working on the haematology ward, Courtney has met patients receiving stem cell transplants, so she knows how important donating is. And so began her journey to potentially save a stranger’s life.

The donation

Courtney was prepped for a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation. In Australia, 90 percent of donations are carried out this way. The process involves sitting in a hospital chair for around four hours as blood is extracted from one arm, circulated in a machine that separates the stem cells, and then returned to the donor via their other arm. It’s similar to dialysis, or a long blood donation. For Courtney, the process only took around 2.5 hours. The other method is the extraction of bone marrow from the hip, usually only required for paediatric patients.

But let’s rewind. To prepare for the donation, Courtney had blood tests to confirm she definitely matched the recipient. She thought these tests would be simple, however around 16 vials of blood were taken. Nevertheless, she took it in her stride and when it came time to self-inject hormones into her body Courtney’s friends “had fun” administering them.

Courtney admits the “injections prior sucked but nothing that Panadol couldn’t fix”. The purpose of the hormones is to boost the donor’s production of stem cells and release them into the blood stream so they can be extracted. Often, this leads to aching in the bones and muscles, symptoms Courtney experienced. Her body continued to ache, and she was also lightheaded, for a couple of days post-donation, but it didn’t slow her down.

“I was back to the gym the next day (and) back to work the next day,” she says. “It really doesn’t take too much of a toll on your body.”

A donation of blood stem cells by PBSC in a hospital setting
Courtney donating her blood stem cells by PBSC

As for help during her donation journey, Courtney had a lot of support from family, friends and colleagues. Working in a hospital also meant her appointments could be carried out to time with her shifts. It was also her career in healthcare that motivated her to donate.

Courtney’s post-donation message

“I know that giving blood is incredibly important, as well as plasma,” she says.

“110 percent I would do it (again) in a heartbeat and I hope that maybe Strength to Give gets a little bit more government funding because it’s just wild that they aren’t able to promote it as much as they should be.”

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