Yorkshire blood cancer patient meets German donor who twice gave gift of life

Mark Ritson with Jacqueline Harfmann
Mark Ritson with Jacqueline Harfmann
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A YORKSHIRE father has met the German stem cell donor who has saved his life thanks to two transplant operations.

Jacqueline Harfmann twice donated her stem cells to Mark Ritson, of Sheffield, and has now visited the rare blood disease sufferer.

Ms Harfmann agreed to go through a second transplant after the first failed, enabling him to survive his gruelling battle with severe aplastic anaemia.

Mr Ritson said: “It was a bit surreal to meet her, and it took a day or so to sink in.

“She stayed at my house, with my kids running around, and she could see what she had given me. It became real. You can’t choose the person who is your donor, but if I could I would have chosen Jacqueline.”

He was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia in 2008 and underwent 104 blood transfusions and had two bouts of immunotherapy treatment at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield.

The father-of-two recovered, but relapsed in 2012 and was told his only hope was a stem cell transplant.

A worldwide search led to Ms Harfmann, who had only signed up to the register weeks before.

Mr Ritson underwent his first transplant in March 2013, however soon afterwards the procedure failed. When Ms Harfmann – who was 19 at the time – was told, she agreed to donate again.

“After the first transplant I was so full of hope that everything would be fine,” she said.

“Then they told me it had failed, but there was a possibility to donate again and give it another try. I was sure in that very second that I wanted to try. I didn’t want to let him down.”

Despite serious complications initially, 18 months on Mr Ritson’s new immune system began to function properly and he now feels “completely normal”.

He said: “If you get the opportunity to donate stem cells like Jacqueline has, then you are saving a life. You don’t get the opportunity to do that every day.”