‘I’ve potentially saved a stranger’s life by donating my blood stem cells and it was painless’ – inews

By daniellenierenberg

NewsReal LifeLydia Burgess-Gamble has helped a sick woman in her twenties after they were genetically matched

Tuesday, 22nd October 2019, 10:38 am

Lydia Burgess-Gamble felt a lump in her throat when she got the letter saying her stem cells were a match for someone sick.

The 42-year-old had signed up to the register to be a donor almost three years earlier and hadn't given it much thought since.

Ahead of her 40th birthday, she'd wanted to do something altrusistic. Now she had the chance to potentially save someone's life who was battling a blood cancer or blood disorder.

Donating stem cells today is almost as easy as giving blood. "It was a straightforward and painless process and being able to relax and read a book for a few hours was a luxury," she said.

Patients face difficult odds

Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukaemia, myeloma or lymphoma. That's more than 30,000 people a year. Worldwide, it's one every 30 seconds.

Patients suffering with these types of cancers can have their bone marrow damaged by the cancer itself, or from chemotherapy and radiation treatments. A stem cell transplant lets the new stem cells take over from the damaged marrow so the body can produce healthy, cancer-free blood cells.

Even though there are over 27 million people on the worldwide register, this isnt enough, according to charity DKMS. At any one time there are around 2,000 people in the UK in need of a transplant.

Matching donors and patients isnt easy because it's determined by tissue type, not blood group. There are thousands of different human leukocyte antigen (HLA) characteristics, in millions of combinations. Doctors look to relatives for a match but two out of three of those in need are unable to find one, and so must rely on the generosity of strangers.

Most donations are day cases at hospital

Lydia, an environmental research scientist from Brighton, became aware of the process involved through a Facebook post. "A friend shared an appeal for a loved one who needed a donor," she said. "I remember watching a documentary about donating bone marrow in the 90s and I hadn't realised it mainly doesn't involve an invasive procedure until I read this post."

The donation usually involves a nonsurgical procedure called peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation for around 90 per cent of all cases, which is the method Lydia used.

With this method, blood is taken from one of the donors arms and a machine extracts the blood stem cells from it. The donors blood is then returned to their body through their other arm. It is an outpatient procedure that usually takes four to six hours.

'I had no side effects, other than I felt a little more tired than usual the next day'

Lydia Burgess-Gamble

This procedure doesn't "deplete" a donor's supply of stem cells, as a donor's stem cells will completely replenish themselves within two to four weeks afterwards.

"I had no side effects, other than I felt a little more tired than usual the next day but within 24 hours I was completely back to normal," said Lydia.

"All I know about my recipient is that it's a woman in her twenties who lives in Turkey. I'd love to make contact one day. I'm not expecting anything but I'm hoping she gets well and we may be able to meet."

The other 10 per cent of donations are made through bone marrow, where donors give cells from the bone marrow in their pelvis. This is under general anaesthetic so that no pain is experienced. The collection itself takes one to two hours and most donors return to their regular activities within a week. Two weeks after donation, your bone marrow will have recovered fully, and the hip bone will have fully healed within six weeks.

Donating: the process

To become a potential blood stem cell donor first check your eligibility on the DKMS website and request a swab kit for your cheek.

Complete the swabs posted to you at home and send them back. Then yourtissue type will be analysed and your details will be added to the UK stem cell registry. Your details can be searched for a genetic match for people all over the world who need a second chance at life.

The odds are you may never be called upon, but if you are, you will have a blood test at your local GP or hospital and will be asked to complete a medical questionnaire and consent form. If you're deemed fit and healthy enough, you'll have a further medical assessment and consultation at a specialist collection centre (where you will later donate your blood stem cells).

It's important to read about the methods used to collect blood stem cells PBSC and bone marrow donation because if youre on the register, you should be willing to donate in either way. The method will be determined by what the doctors believe will be best for the patient. However, you will of course always have the final decision on whether you are happy to proceed.

When a donor is matched with a patient, DKMS will cover the costs (including any travel, meals, or accommodation expenses that may be necessary and lost wages if you are not covered by your employer).

Your blood stem cells will never be stored, they last for around 72 hours and are delivered straight to the person in need by a special courier.

You will be allowed to meet the patient, if they consent, eventually UK guidelines state this can happen two years after the donation (and tules vary by country).Contact through anonymous letters can be established before this time via DKMS.

You will stay on the register until your 61st birthday.

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'I've potentially saved a stranger's life by donating my blood stem cells and it was painless' - inews

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