Stem cell heroes battle travel restrictions and border closures to save a life

A charity worker from Milton Keynes has been battling the clock, travel restrictions and border closures to ensure lifesaving stem cells can be delivered to blood cancer patients who desperately need them to survive.

Katy Jones, 21, has worked for blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan since January. In her day job, she works with Anthony Nolan’s student volunteer network, Marrow, and alongside this she has now volunteered as a courier, to travel across the UK collecting donated stem cells and transporting them to patients waiting for a transplant.

Anthony Nolan matches individuals willing to donate their stem cells to patients with blood cancer or blood disorders who desperately need lifesaving transplants. The charity usually enlists the help of over 50 volunteers, who are usually retired, that travel the UK and all over the world to collect stem cells from donors and deliver them to patients safely and promptly.

Anthony Nolan relies upon the generosity of volunteers to courier the stem cell donations critical for lifesaving transplants. On average, the incredible work of the charity’s volunteers helps save Anthony Nolan more than £500,000 every year.

Earlier this month, following guidance from the UK Government amid the ongoing covid-19 (coronavirus), outbreak the charity made the decision to work with alternative couriers to pick up and deliver stem cells from outside the UK to ensure patients’ needs are met. The decision was taken because many Anthony Nolan couriers are retired and give their time to support the charity. Staff from across the Anthony Nolan, including Katy, have stepped up and been trained, virtually, to pick up and deliver stem cells within a matter of hours.

Once a person donates their stem cells, couriers have just 72 hours to deliver them to the patient for the clinician to administer the lifesaving transplant. In times of global travel restrictions, the couriers must ensure that they arrive on time.

Stem cell heroes battle travel restrictions and border closures to save a life
Katy on her was to collect stem cells

Katy said:

“I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to help people in need and support another aspect of Anthony Nolan’s work during this time; it’s a real privilege to be part of a lifesaving journey in this way.”

Anthony Nolan has created an emergency ‘Handover Hub’ at Heathrow Airport, open 24 hours a day to enable international couriers who can’t go into hospitals due to social distancing rules, to transfer donated stem cells to one of its UK volunteers for the final lifesaving leg.

Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan said:

“Anthony Nolan was founded on the kindness of strangers. The reason we’ve been able to take swift and immediate action to ensure lives can be are saved because of our wonderful staff team, like Katy, who sprang into action when she was asked to deputise for our volunteer couriers.

“Our team is working around the clock to keep stem cell donations moving during this difficult period, to save patients’ lives.”

In addition to raising funds to carry out it’s vital work, Anthony Nolan needs to raise an extra £10,000, every month that the coronavirus pandemic continues, to fund this work. Visit find out how you can help the charity keep this lifesaving work going.