Brothers Stephen and Andrew have good reason to celebrate a significant anniversary. 25 years ago Andrew donated his bone marrow to his brother Stephen who needed a transplant to treat his T-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
Stephen tells the story of how he got the opportunity to celebrate 25 extra years: ‘In 1986 I was 23 and was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma. After a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy I was in remission and life carried on. Then having achieved nearly five years in remission my lymphoma returned and it was time for a different approach. My medical team explained that I would need an allogeneic bone marrow transplant, so a donor would need to be found. My brother and sister were both tested and fortunately for me my brother Andrew was an ideal match.
After being admitted into my own room at the hospital, I received chemotherapy to get me to what is known as Day Zero, 'transplant day'. I can still vividly recall how the day went. Andrew was in the hospital and had the bone marrow removed under general anaesthetic in the morning. I was in my isolation room in the same hospital waiting anxiously. During the early evening while watching a TV programme with my girlfriend Francesca, who later became my wife, my new life began. I received Andrew’s bone marrow via a drip and it was all completed within an hour. Andrew was able to go home a few days later with a slight twinge in his hips and told to rest. I had no idea what to expect for the rest of my stay in hospital. I think at the time the process of how the stem cells in the bone marrow worked to rejuvenate the body’s system was only just starting to be understood.
Three months after entering the hospital to start the process I was home. I had survived the time in isolation, nausea from the chemo and some minor ailments with a positive attitude, a sense of humour and the wonderful staff on the ward. It took another few months of trips back to the hospital for check-ups, the occasional blood transfusion and lots of invaluable support from Francesca before getting to the stage of having a normal life again.
Just when I thought I had received a lifetime of luck I get a bonus. Because of the chemotherapy regime I was given, I was told I may not be able to have children naturally, so when Francesca and I had our baby daughter Freya, it was a miracle. I have been blessed that thanks to my brother, the advances in medical science and the NHS staff I have lived to see my daughter grow into a lovely young woman and my brother has a wonderful niece.
It has recently been the 25th anniversary of my bone marrow transplant and I celebrated it with my brother Andrew and his partner, my wife and daughter and close friends. We raised a glass to celebrate, had a piece of a special cake and reminisced. Without my brother I would not have been around to tell the tale. Thank you bruv!
Is stem cell donation painful?
90% of people now donate directly from their bloodstream, in a procedure known as peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC). In this procedure the donor receives a series of hormone injections for four days to make their stem cells multiply into the bloodstream. Then the stem cells will be extracted from one arm in the clinic, much like donating blood. They will then go into hospital to donate their stem cells which are taken from their bloodstream over four or five days.
Just 10% of people are asked to donate from the bone marrow itself. This takes place under general anaesthetic, so there isn’t any pain while it’s happening. Afterwards, people report that they feel a bit tired and bruised, and will need a short time to recover.
With thanks to Anthony Nolan for reviewing this information. You can find out more about donating stem cells by visiting anthonynolan.org