Spit saves lives: A donor’s perspective

Justina Treigytė 31 October 2014

When it comes to bone marrow and stem cell donation, many people are put off by the idea of undergoing a painful procedure. Cambridge Marrow, the local student branch of the Anthony Nolan blood cancer charity, works hard to break down the stigma and encourage sign ups to the lifesaving register. In 90% of the cases it is a non-invasive process, similar to that of donating blood, and according to a previous donor, Callum MacGregor, who is currently studying for a PhD at Cambridge and kindly agreed to be interviewed about his experience of donating, it hurts less!

Let’s start from the beginning – how did you find out about Marrow and what motivated you to sign up? Did you sign up in Cambridge?

I joined the register in my first year as an undergraduate at St Andrew’s, back in 2006. One of my friends was studying medicine and involved with the Marrow branch there, and she encouraged me to sign up by providing a sample of my saliva.

How long after signing up were you contacted by Anthony Nolan asking you donate?

I received a phone call from Anthony Nolan six years later, in 2012. I was actually contacted a second time but went on to donate only once.

What was the donation procedure like, did anything about it surprise you?

The whole process, from the phone call up to the day of donation took about a month. In the first stages of matching patients with donors, Anthony Nolan contact a number of potential donors and conduct further tests to see if there is a match. Then donors undergo a course of hormones four days before the donation to stimulate their production of stem cells. The donation procedure in London was pretty painless though somewhat boring because you have to sit still for four to five hours but you can watch films during that time. I was asked to donate over two days but this is quite uncommon, for most people it takes only a day.

Can you describe the pain or sensation for the couple of days after the injections and donating itself?

I experienced no serious side effects, I have donated blood as well and I think that hurts more. I felt a bit tired after donating but the following day I was feeling completely normal. Some donors tend to get numb fingers but this can be solved by taking some calcium after donating.

How much inconvenience did the whole process cause you?

There were no expenses attached to me. A nurse came to my house in Cambridge to inject the hormones and then transport to London, hotel accommodation and meals for myself and my girlfriend who accompanied me were all covered by Anthony Nolan.

How were you treated by Anthony Nolan?

Everyone was very helpful and I would be happy to donate for them again. Antony Nolan get in touch with donors every year to follow up and make sure that there are no issues.

Have you met the person who received your stem cells? Would you like to meet them?

All I know about the recipient is that he is alive, also male and has a similar age and build as me. At least two years have to pass before the patient can initiate contact and although it would be nice to meet the recipient, I do not mind.

How did your friends and family react when you were asked to donate?

At the time of the initial phone call, my sister was battling with leukaemia and was in the final stages of her treatment, but has now fully recovered and been off treatment for two years. My mother has now been selected by Anthony Nolan too! I would like to encourage everyone to sign up; there is a higher chance that you will need a transplant yourself than that you will ever be asked to donate if you sign up. Only about one person in a hundred is actually asked to donate, but nevertheless it is really important to get as many people on the register as possible.

It is quick and easy to sign up to the register, Cambridge Marrow's next event will be at King’s College, 2:30-5:30 on Sunday 2nd November; more details can be found on their Facebook event page

Alternatively, more information and spit kits are available to order from the Anthony Nolan website http://www.anthonynolan.org/. Give a spit, save a life!