A father-of-two who underwent two stem cell transplants has met the donor who saved his life.
Mark Ritson, 49, of Fulwood, Sheffield, met Jacqueline Harfmann, from Germany, who twice donated her stem cells to Mark after a worldwide search for a match.
“It was a bit surreal to meet her, and it took a day or so to sink in,” said Mark. “At first I was quite British about it, but by the time she left we were hugging and had become good friends. She stayed at my house, with my kids running around, and she could see what she had given me. “
Mark said he had feared that his anonymous donor would not want to go ahead with a second donation after the first transplant failed. But Jacqueline, who was only 19 at the time, said she had no doubts.
“After the first transplant I was so full of hope that everything would be fine,” she said. “I thought about it almost all the time. Then they told me it had failed, but there was a possibility to donate again and give it another try. I didn’t want to let him down.” Mark’s ordeal started in 2007 when he began to feel unwell and he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia and treated at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, where he underwent a total of 104 blood transfusions and had two bouts of aggressive immunotherapy treatment. He recovered for a period, during which time he completed a marathon, but relapsed in 2012 and was told that the only hope of a cure was a stem cell transplant. This led to a worldwide search of the Anthony Nolan stem cell register and the match with Jacqueline, who had only signed up to the register a matter of weeks before. Mark underwent his first transplant at the Hallamshire in March 2013, at the same time as his wife, Lisa, was pregnant with their first child in the Jessop Wing Hospital a matter of minutes away. Their baby daughter, Iona, was born prematurely five days after Mark left hospital.But in the weeks that followed Mark’s blood counts started to drop again and it became clear that the transplant hadn’t worked. After the second transplant, Mark had an 18 month period where he suffered from other complications associated with his condition but eventually his new immune system began to function properly and he now feels “completely normal” and should be able to live a normal life. He also has a second baby, a little boy called Magnus, and at the weekend he ran the London Marathon.
Aplastic anaemia is a rare blood disease that means the bone marrow does not produce enough platelets or red and white blood cells. Professor John Snowden, a Consultant Haematologist who treated Mark, said: “Mark has come through his treatment on the strength of his positive attitude and the generosity of his donor. If you get the opportunity to donate stem cells like Jacqueline has, then you are saving a life.”