Two Yorkshire students are urging for more young men to join the stem cell register and save a life.
Catherine Scott reports.
When Jonny Parker, 21, was told his cancer had returned he was also told he needed a life-saving stem cell transplant.
Now the economics student from Scarborough, who is currently receiving treatment for blood cancer, is calling on young people to sign up as stem cell donors with blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan after his recent diagnosis.
In August 2018, Jonny Parker was given the news he had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a rare type of blood cancer.
“We thought it was a shoulder injury. I had a lump which didn’t disappear after my shoulder got better. I thought that I’d get over it, but mum noticed that I just wasn’t well. I was sleeping all the time and just not myself. She booked an emergency appointment with my GP, who was amazing.”
Jonny was taken to A&E in Scarborough, where he was given blood tests to rule out an infection. He was then taken by ambulance to York Hospital, which was where the term ‘cancer’ was first mentioned.
“My family honed in on ‘cancer’ but at that point I was still thinking in terms of it being a bad infection. But then doctors started talking about lymphoma and leukaemia.
“When doctors confirmed it was leukaemia, seeing my mum and my girlfriend react was hard. Then I had to stay in hospital, but they left.”
Jonny completed five cycles of chemotherapy which put him into remission. However, in May this year his leukaemia returned.
Jonny is currently being treated with regular cycles of chemotherapy, but he needs a stem cell transplant: cells from a healthy person, with the same tissue type, to replace and repair his own damaged cells.
“At times it’s hard for me to even get out of bed. I have to have somebody to physically help me up and there are things I can’t do for myself, which is hard.”
Many of Jonny’s friends have joined the stem cell register, inspired by his Facebook updates.
“When I share updates on Facebook, I receive lots of messages from people asking how they can help and so many of my friends have signed up to be stem cell donors. They were surprised at how simple it was… just a swab of the mouth, and you might be a match for somebody one day.”
One person who did find a match is teenager Thomas Court.
“In April 2018, after feeling run down with what I thought was a sickness bug, I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. I had just turned 16 years old. I was due to take my GCSEs and go onto college to start A levels, but at that moment everything stopped, and I was admitted to hospital to undergo seven months of intense treatment; the hardest days of my life.”
During the grueling chemotherapy and fighting infections including sepsis, he was told his leukemia was of high risk of returning, so he would need a bone marrow transplant.
“I was devastated and waited anxiously to see if my family were a match, but unfortunately, they were not,” says Thomas, now 17.
It was Antony Nolan that found a match for him.
“A selfless man, a complete stranger, had signed up to the register and was now willing to donate his bone marrow to save my life. I, and my family will all be, forever grateful. Knowing that there was someone out there gave me hope.
“My transplant was a success, however, during the following months I had serious complications, including liver failure and Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD). With the help of the superb NHS team, I fought hard throughout and now, slowly but surely, I am recovering.
“I started home schooling in January and took my GCSEs in June. I plan to start A-levels in September 2019 and then go on to university. I love playing the drums, which has kept me motivated throughout my recovery. This has gradually built up my strength and stamina to being able to play the tunes I love. Even the neighbours are happy to listen to me as they know it means I am getting better.
“I have had great support from my family and friends but a special mention to my girlfriend Kate and her family who have been immense throughout, with Kate even pressing the button to start my transplant. None of this could have happened without the Antony Nolan register and that selfless amazing man who signed up.
“I have been given a second chance of life and am not wasting any of it.”
Thomas’s mother Laura, added: “Thomas wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for his donor. We would like to help others who are in a similar situation by raising awareness getting as many people as possible to sign up to the Antony Nolan register.”
Anthony Nolan uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer patients in desperate need of a transplant. It also carries out pioneering research to increase stem cell transplant success, and supports patients through their transplant journeys.
These transplants are often the patient’s last chance of survival and so it is vital that the charity is able to find matches for every patient who needs a transplant.
Lynsey Dickson, regional register development manager at Anthony Nolan, said: “We are delighted that Thomas has chosen to share his story to inspire people to sign up as donors. We particularly need young men to join the register as they are the most likely to be chosen to donate.
“Every day, five people like Thomas start their search for a matching stem cell donor. Every person that joins the register has the potential to be somebody’s lifesaver.”
About 2,000 people in the UK need a stem cell transplant from a stranger every year.
Joining the register involves a simple swab of the mouth and ten minutes of your time.
Thomas Court is hosting an event at Bedale Primary School for Anthony Nolan at on Thursday September 5 from 4.30pm – 7.30pm in a bid to get more people to join the register.
“If you are between 16 and 30 years old and in good health, please come along and help us make a difference,” says Thomas.
“We’d like to recruit as many people as possible so please join us and help us to achieve our goal.”
People can also join the register online at www.anthonynolan.org