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Volunteering comes in all shapes and forms. From helping out at a charity shop, helping out at Brownies, raising money for charities; there are endless possibilities. There are some not-so-obvious opportunities people can volunteer for. For example, giving blood, or joining a bone marrow register.
In 1971, Anthony Nolan was born with a rare condition called Wiskitt-Aldrich syndrome. The only cure was a bone marrow transplant. None of his family members were a match; however in 1973, Simon Bostic was the first to receive a non-related bone marrow transplant. This gave Anthony Nolan’s mother, Shirley, the idea to set up a register, which would connect donors to patients desperately needing a transplant. Today, Anthony Nolan is the UK’s only blood cancer charity and bone marrow register.
To be in with a chance of saving a life, donors must be aged 16-30 years old, in good health, weigh over 7st 12lbs, and have a body mass index of lower than 40. It sounds like a lot of criteria, but it’s surprising how many people meet these requirements.
I personally heard about Anthony Nolan by word of mouth from a friend. It astonished me that, despite being so incredible, the charity had very little publicity. After filling in an online application, asking basic health questions, I received a simple spit kit in the post. It only took about 3 weeks for the Anthony Nolan trust to analyse the salvia I provided, and send me a personalised donor card. I was officially on the register.
If a patient is found to match me, I could be asked to undergo one of two types of transplants. The most common is stem cell collection – 90% of donors use this. Over the course of 4 days, a nurse comes to your house or local doctors to inject a naturally occurring hormone that increases the number of stem cells. On the final day you travel to a collection point. Donating only takes about 4-5 hours. A tube is inserted into your arm, which draws out the blood and passes it through a machine to collect the stem cells. It doesn’t require general anaesthetic or an overnight stay in hospital. The only side effects are mild flu like symptoms and occasional aching, but considering you just saved a life, that’s nothing!
The alternative donation is bone marrow transplants. You’ll spend 2 days under general anaesthetic in a London hospital. All travel and accommodation for you and a friend are all arranged by Anthony Nolan. Doctors take the bone marrow from your pelvis using a needle and syringe. There may be some aching and bruising, but this passes quickly.
After the transplant, donors may be able to get in contact with their donor via the charity, but it depends highly on the regulations of the particular hospital.
Some people have shared their stories on the Anthony Nolan website, like Ryan Ferguson, www.anthonynolan.org. This provides a real insight to exactly how much of an impact donors can have on peoples lives.
“You’re desperately hoping that there is someone out there willing to help you.”
But Anthony Nolan is about more than just saving lives. People become involved, developing a sense of responsibility. When I joined the register, Anthony Nolan didn’t just gain one donor. It gained about eight. I, of course, had to shout from the rooftops about it; encouraging my friends to join and telling others about it. Obviously it’s not for everyone, but even people that don’t want to join the register can still help. Hosting a fundraising event, taking part in a race; any little thing can make a difference.
“I’ve been given the gift of life, this second chance. I don’t intend to waste it.” – Beth Morris, 17.
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