This week, student volunteers at universities across London are attempting to recruit hundreds of young Londoners to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register.
The week-long campaign, ‘Londonors’, which launched this week, is being spearheaded by ‘Marrow’, blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan’s student volunteer network, which operates in seven universities across the capital.
Currently, over 119,000 Londoners are registered as potential stem cell donors on the Anthony Nolan register, ready to give a second chance of life to someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder needing a lifesaving transplant.
The ‘Londonors’ campaign will seek to highlight and celebrate the diversity of London, and there will also be a particular focus on recruiting people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. It’s more difficult for patients from these backgrounds to find a donor with a matching tissue type. Only 69% of transplant recipients receive the best match, and this drops dramatically to around 20% if you’re from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background. Students across London want to change this.
Ben Ummat, 32, a doctor from Streatham in south London joined the register in May 2018, after spotting an Anthony Nolan stand at Comic-Con in London.
“I was especially keen to be on the register, as being from a mixed background I know it’s harder for people from ethnic minority backgrounds to find a matching stem cell donor.
“I was a little surprised to get contacted about being a match so quickly as I had been on the register for less than a year, however I was really excited. I was really happy to help someone with cancer.”
Over 90% of donors donate through PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell collection). This is a simple, outpatient procedure similar to giving blood. The other 10% donate through bone marrow, under general anaesthetic. Ben donated via PBSC.
“The donation itself was painless and it was quite nice to sit down and relax for a morning. The staff at the hospital and the Anthony Nolan team were fantastic and they did everything to make me feel as comfortable as possible.
“I’d say don’t hesitate about joining the register, just do it! If you get called to donate it’s such a rewarding experience and you are doing such a great thing for someone else. The support from Anthony Nolan and my friends and family has been amazing. I am so glad I registered last year, in fact, my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner!”
Stem cell donors recruited by Marrow, account for over a quarter of all people who go on to donate, meaning student volunteers are a vital part of the work of Anthony Nolan. Over the last 21 years, Marrow has recruited 130,000 potential lifesavers to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register.
Jacob Hawley, 28, from Holloway in London joined the Anthony Nolan register after speaking to a Marrow volunteer whilst he was studying at Middlesex University. In October 2017 he got a call from Anthony Nolan to say he was a match for someone in need of a transplant. He has recently made contact with his stem cell recipient.
“During my donation, I kept thinking about the person my stem cells were going to. I was just hoping she wasn’t too uncomfortable and hoping the transplant would be a success. She was always in my thoughts, even though at the time I didn’t know anything about her.
Patients and donors must remain anonymous for at least two years following a transplant. After the two year period is up, if both parties agree, they are allowed to make direct contact.
“I had October 2019 in my head for a while because I knew that would be the two-year mark. I was almost counting down.
“Anthony Nolan got in contact with me and said, ‘the time has come, do you want to be put in touch with your recipient?’ Obviously, I said yes and sent over all my details. Since then we’ve been sending long emails back and forth and sharing photos, it’s been lovely. I feel like I’ve gained a lifelong pen pal. I’d love to meet her one day if she wants to.
“It’s really hard to properly fathom the difference that my donation has made. Susan has explained to me in detail what it’s done for her and her family, her children and her grandchildren, her partner.
“I don’t feel like a ‘hero’, I’m just someone who volunteered to give up an afternoon. And it all started with those Marrow students signing me up to the register, giving up their time. They saved Susan’s life as much as anyone else did.
Charlotte Hughes, Volunteer Engagement Manager at Anthony Nolan said:
“Our London Marrow volunteers really are heroes, helping Anthony Nolan give hope to patients with blood cancer by signing up thousands of potential ‘Londonors’.
“It is also so important to address the need for more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds on the stem cell register so that we are able to find a match for every person in need of a transplant. It’s not okay for someone not to find a match because of their ethnicity. London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, and therefore provides the perfect opportunity to register a large number of potential donors, from a mix of backgrounds, heritages and communities.
Anyone aged 16-30 and in relatively good health can join the Anthony Nolan register. To find out more about Anthony Nolan and the Londonors campaign, visit at www.anthonynolan.org/londonors