Going back a few months, I had the opportunity to research into bone marrow donation for Redbrick Newspaper after a fresher at my university, Amy Rogers, had just donated bone marrow for a child in need. I was able to interview Amy about the process and I spent some time researching the need for volunteers. Bone marrow donation is something that I feel isn’t publicised or talked about enough, so today I thought I’d share my article in the hopes of starting a conversation. Please have a read and let me know your thoughts; this is an important cause and we need more brave lifesavers like Amy to join Anthony Nolan.
Amy Rogers is a Law student, in her first year at the University of Birmingham. The shift from living at home to surviving independently at university is a life-changing time, albeit not the only life-changing experience she had to encounter last September. Amy Rogers has donated bone marrow in order to change someone else’s life for the better. At just 18, she has breathed life, joy and hope into someone out there who needs it most. I am a little unwilling to admit, out of embarrassment, that until of late the bone marrow register had not ever occurred to me. I know the complete importance of opting in and becoming an organ donor, yet the simple process of signing up to the bone marrow register was something that I knew nothing about. Through speaking to Amy and those at Birmingham Marrow – the student branch of charity Anthony Nolan – my eyes have been opened to the humbling, inspiring and simply life-changing work the volunteers do. In 1974, Shirley Nolan set up the first bone marrow register after her three-year-old son Anthony was in urgent need of a bone marrow transplant. To this day, the charity continually saves lives by helping volunteers on the register donate blood stem cells and bone marrow to people with blood cancer and blood disorders.
“When signing up for the register, volunteers are required to ‘give a spit, safe a life’- a spit sample”
Amy first signed up to the bone marrow register in 2014, when volunteers from Anthony Nolan visited the college she attended. Last year, Anthony Nolan got in touch: ‘I was actually at a friend’s house, revising for our A2 exams, and I got a text from Anthony Nolan saying that they were urgently trying to get in touch with me and could I ring them as soon as possible. I rang them up straight away, and they explained to me that I was a potential match. I was so over the moon; I think I was shaking!’ When signing up for the register, volunteers are required to ‘give a spit, save a life’, as a spit sample gives a good indication of patients you could potentially match. Once Anthony Nolan got in touch with Amy, she was then required to give a blood sample to confirm that she was a match to her patient. A month after the important phone call, she spoke to a donor-coordinator at Anthony Nolan, who confirmed that the donation was to go ahead.
Amy donated via a bone marrow harvest, a process involving bone marrow being extracted from the pelvis. However, only around 1 in 10 people donate this way, with most donations being given through PBSC – peripheral blood stem cell collection – a process which is similar to giving blood. There are countless myths surrounding bone marrow donations, mostly involving the ‘painful’ connotations people associate donating with. Amy is quick to dispel those fears. ‘The main thing I really want to emphasise is that all of the myths I’ve heard have been just that – myths! It’s really not that bad!’ For someone that had never experienced a hospital procedure before, she was keen to stress that the whole process was the opposite of the fearful myths surrounding donation. ‘I’d never stayed overnight in a hospital before, or even been a patient in a hospital. I was surrounded by really amazing medical staff who were all so reassuring. It was so quick and simple. The actual process of them collecting bone marrow from my pelvic bones was way less than an hour. I was under general anaesthetic, and didn’t feel a thing.’
“Each person on the bone marrow register has only a 1 in 900 chance of finding a match to donate”
4 in 10 gay and bisexual men think they can’t join the register because of their sexuality, which is another myth surrounding donation. The speculation surrounding bone marrow donation is often what stops people signing the register and I am a firm believer, alongside Amy Rogers and Anthony Nolan, that we should cast aside the myths and seriously consider either joining the register, becoming a volunteer or donating to Anthony Nolan. Around 2,000 people in the UK need a bone marrow transplant each year. Men aged 16-30 are urgently needed as stem cell donors, as a YouGov survey of this age bracket found that 22% of men aren’t aware of the register and 1 in 3 won’t join due to the ‘painful’ myth surrounding donation. Additionally, a white British person has a 60% chance of finding a donor, whereas people from a black, Asian or ethnic minority have just a 20% chance of a transplant. These statistics are something that we need to change. Raising awareness of bone marrow donation is crucial, continual fundraising for Anthony Nolan is important as it costs £60 a time to sign someone up for the register and more inspiring volunteers are needed to save lives. Amy Rogers’ story is inspiring to us all. She touchingly told me why she chose to donate: ‘For a few days out of my life, I’ve hopefully made someone else’s a whole lot better. The survival rate isn’t 100%, but even if it isn’t as successful as planned, you’ve given someone a bit longer with their loved ones. I know if I had blood cancer, I’d be hoping someone would donate for me.’ 620,885 people are on the UK bone marrow register and 68,658 potential donors were recruited last year, yet each person on the register only has a 1 in 900 chance of being asked to donate. If you want to change people’s lives like Amy has, get online to www.anthonynolan.org.