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Donor's heartwarming trip to surprise USA cancer survivor

A programme broadcast around the world on CNN International has shown the moment UK stem cell donor Stuart Phillips met an American woman whose life he saved by selflessly donating his stem cells.

The CNN series ‘Vital Signs with Dr Sanjay Gupta’, explores health stories from around the world, giving a global perspective on how health issues are detected, treated and handled socially.

Watch a clip from the programme

This episode reports how stem cell donations save lives across the world and meets some of those who have been involved in the process.

Stuart and Celia's story

Stuart Phillips, 45, who lives in Woking and works at the Winston Churchill School, provided lifesaving stem cells for Celia Hutchinson of Boston, Massachusetts, in 2012.

Stuart had joined the Anthony Nolan register in 1990 after reading a magazine article. But because all the world’s registers are linked up, 22 years later he was able to come up as a match for a stranger in the US who urgently needed stem cells.

Anthony Nolan worked with the US registry, Be The Match, to arrange the lifesaving donation, and three years later, to put Stuart and Celia in touch with one another (as both had expressed a wish to exchange contact information once the two year anonymity period had finished).

The two built up a close friendship over letters, email and phone, but until last month they had never met.

In this episode Stuart flies to Massachusetts in a bid to surprise the unsuspecting Celia, who had just thought she was filming a general documentary about stem cell donation.

Celia, 71, told ‘Vital Signs’: “I wanted to live. I wanted life. I felt that I was just too young not to try it and see what would happen so I could go on and live my life, enjoy my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren.”
Describing her feelings about Stuart, Celia revealed to the programme: “It was just the most exciting thing in my whole life, to know that this donor has saved my life…He should be so proud of himself, for what he has done. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for him.”

Stuart and Celia exchange gifts

Commenting on their meeting after CNN’s cameras had stopped rolling, Stuart said: “For Celia it was a total surprise – she knew nothing.  Her husband, family and the hospital staff knew, but not her. 

“It was humbling to see how much it meant to her and her family.  She’s said that she sees me as a brother, which is lovely, and it was a privilege to see how happy my donation had made her and those that matter to her.”

Stuart with Celia and her family

How to watch Stuart and Celia's meeting

‘Vital Signs with Dr Sanjay Gupta’ airs on CNN International (Sky channel 506, Virgin 607, Freesat 207) at these times:
Saturday 23 May at 0630 BST and 1930 BST
Sunday 24 May at 1330 BST
Saturday 30 May at 1330 BST
Sunday 31 May at 0630 BST and 1930 BST
The episode will also air on CNN USA on these dates:
Saturday 25th July at 1430 ET
Saturday 8th August at 1430 ET
Video from the programme can be found at online at

How you can help

Aged 16–30 and in good general health? You can join the Anthony Nolan register and become a potential lifesaver like Stuart. Just click on the button below.




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