Nilush celebrates 100 days since cord blood stem cell transplant

March 18, 2014
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A Leicestershire man has received a successful stem cell transplant, thanks to two anonymous mums who donated their umbilical cord blood.

Despite facing some post-transplant complications, Sri-Lankan born Nilush from Barwell has reached his 100 day milestone since the transplant, and is ‘looking forward to good times ahead’.

Nilush's story

Nilush, 33, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia in June 2012. After intensive chemotherapy, doctors thought Nilush was in remission and gave him the all-clear. But in April last year, he was given the devastating news that the cancer had returned. He was told by doctors at Leicester Royal Infirmary that a bone marrow (or stem cell) transplant was his best chance of survival, but he faced a worrying situation as doctors struggled to find a match through bone marrow registers across the world.

‘In September 2013 I was told that, despite a worldwide search of the donor registers, they had had no luck finding me a bone marrow match,’ said Nilush.  ‘Luckily for me they explained that they had found two umbilical cords that were sufficient matches and they were going to use this method. It was such a relief, as I was running out of options.’

How cord blood works

The blood from umbilical cords is rich in potentially life-saving stem cells that can be used in a transplant to cure someone of leukaemia or other blood disorders, but is usually just discarded. Sometimes patients need a double cord transplant in order to get enough stem cells.

A stem cell transplant is a major procedure for a patient, and Nilush has been re-admitted to hospital a number of times since the transplant. He is now back at home recovering.

‘I have had some hard times with post-transplant complications, but my girlfriend and my family keep me focused on the future and I know that this transplant has given me a chance to have a future. Now I’ve reached the 100 day milestone I am feeling stronger, positive and  looking forward to many more good times ahead.'

How we collect cord

We run seven cord blood collection centres, where new mums can donate the blood from their cord. This includes a centre in Leicester Royal Infirmary and one at Leicester General Hospital. See the full list of collection centres here.

Lizzie King, Head of Cord at Anthony Nolan, said: ‘Cord blood can be a lifeline for many people, especially those from Asian backgrounds, who have less chance of finding an unrelated adult donor through the bone marrow register. Leicester is an ideal location for cord collection centres due to the city’s wide ethnic mix and high birth rate. Women who are giving birth at the hospital could make a life-changing difference for someone in urgent need of a transplant.’

Lizzie added: ‘People are often surprised to find out how easy it is to donate cord blood. It’s simple, risk-free, and won’t affect your birthing plan – in fact, most mums-to-be usually tell us they hardly knew we were there!’

Raising awareness

Nilush is now passionate about raising awareness both of the bone marrow register, and of cord blood donation.

He said: ‘General awareness of bone marrow donating is very low and the awareness of donating umbilical cords is probably even less.  We need to do a lot more to increase awareness and also dispel all the myths.  A lot of people still think that bone marrow donation is a very painful process but the methods that are generally used these days are similar to giving blood. The umbilical cord donation process does not affect the birth and this is something that is usually thrown away after the birth, so why not use it to save someone else's life?’

He added: ‘I will be forever grateful to Anthony Nolan and to the mothers who donated their cords who along with the fantastic team at the Leicester Royal Infirmary have given me this lifeline. Words can't sum up the work that Anthony Nolan do in the fight to beat blood related illnesses, not only in the donation process but also in research, so if you can help in any way either by fundraising, volunteering or donating, then you can be part of a fantastic organisation that is helping to save people's lives.’

How you can help

Do you live in Nottingham, Leicester, London or Birmingham, and are you pregnant? If so, you could give someone the chance of life just by donating your baby's precious cord blood, something that is usually thrown away. Find out more and register here.

If you're aged 16–30 and in good health, sign up to join our register here. We're always looking for more donors from ethnic minorities so we can save more people's lives.

None of the above? Find more ways to support our life-saving work here.