A fairytale of two cities
Ross Baker is 32, loves football and lives in Leeds. In 2016, Ross was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) and needed a stem cell transplant to save his life.
Pascal Kreßner, a complete stranger from Cologne in Germany, was found to be a match for Ross and gave him the most precious gift by donating his stem cells.
After two years of anonymous letters, Ross had an emotional Christmas meeting in Cologne with his donor Pascal, who he now thinks of as his 'brother'. The two have created a special bond and are looking forward to meeting again in England next year.
I used to play football so I thought it was just that and the effects of getting old. I was working away in Wales and I started getting really bad headaches. I'd take tablets but the headache just wouldn't go away. After a week, with the sweats and the aches still going on, I thought, 'This ain’t right.'
Luckily Jen, my girlfriend at the time - now my wife - said I should go to the doctors, so I did. They did a blood test and an ECG and I went back to Wales. Literally the next day they called me and said: 'You need to come in today, we need to do more tests.' That's when I realised this might be serious.
That was it. I literally didn't leave the hospital for seven weeks.
Ross was told his best chance of survival was a stem cell transplant. After waiting a couple of months, he was told that a donor, a man from Germany, had been found and the transplant went ahead.
I registered on the German stem cell database some years ago, triggered by the fact that my brother donated stem cells to a patient in the US.
When I was informed in 2017 that I might donate as well, I was honestly very excited. The donation itself was really easy.
Shortly after, I was informed where my stem cells were going and the age of the patient. Having spent a year in England in 2003, followed by multiple visits to the UK, I was very happy knowing that my stem cells were going to one of my favourite countries.
When I was informed that I might donate as well, I was honestly very excited
It's quite emotional when the stem cells come in. One of the things that sticks out in my memory is the little happy birthday card that Anthony Nolan sent. It was nice to get that. It said it was a new birthday. It's a day we celebrate now. Jen and I got married on my transplant birthday this year.
I was allowed to contact Pascal anonymously for the first two years, so I wrote him a message just to say thank you. After the two-year period, I contacted Anthony Nolan and said I'd really like to be in touch with my donor. He was happy to be put in touch too and we got each other's contact details.
We just started chatting and finding out about each other. It turned out when I was in Leeds, he'd been at Bradford University doing his Masters. Two weeks later I was doing some work there and sent him a photo saying, 'Look where I am!' I sent him a photo of me with all my family, again just to say thank you. I've got him saved in my phone as 'Brother Pascal'. It's amazing.
I've got him saved in my phone as 'Brother Pascal'
A special Christmas meeting
We flew out to Cologne on Friday. It was me, my wife, my mum and dad and my sister.
Myself and Pascal had been chatting frequently on WhatsApp leading up to the meet, so I knew a little bit about him but I was still nervous about meeting him.
Pascal came with his girlfriend, Larissa. I gave him a hug straight away and said thanks! I then introduced my family to Pascal and Larissa and we all started chatting and getting to know each other. It was nice to see everyone talking and getting on.
We spent Saturday in the Christmas markets and visited Pascal's apartment. We all got on really well. Then we discovered Pascal's love for Great Britain, he had a GB doormat, a London bus picture on the wall and even a GB sink plug. He assured me this was not just because I was visiting!
My sister gave Pascal a hoodie with 'Team Baker' on it. This was our team that got through the leukaemia, so we wanted to let Pascal join the team. He wore it all day.
It was a truly wonderful weekend, I was so pleased to meet Ross and his great family for nearly three days. We had a great time and it really felt like family for me and my girlfriend after the first evening!
Ross is such a nice person, he truly deserved to recover, I can't find the words to say how happy I was over those days; it is a true Christmas tale! We are already so much looking forward to meet again in 2020, in England.
I can't find the words to say how happy I was over those days; it is a true Christmas tale!
I felt very lucky and thankful that I could donate, make a little difference in this world and help Ross at a difficult time. The contact with Ross and the visit have really made my year, I feel very thankful to have met him.
Saying our goodbyes was very emotional. I was overwhelmed by the amount of effort Pascal and Larissa had put into the weekend, plus how much of a nice guy Pascal was and what he had done for me and my family.
I found out over the weekend how much Pascal and myself had in common. We both work in the pharmaceutical industry, we both love football and F1, we both enjoy lots of different food and wouldn't turn anything down.
I really feel like he is my new brother now. Pascal and Larissa are amazing people and we are so lucky that we have managed to meet and share this experience. Pascal saved my life, now he is a friend for life. I can't express the amount of appreciation and thanks I have for the man and I am looking forward to sharing more adventures in Germany and the UK.
Pascal saved my life, now he is a friend for life
Although I've had leukaemia, the positives that came out of the experience massively outweighed the negatives. I appreciate things a lot more now. I have a different attitude towards life - I know it's a cliché but you only live once.
Life is good. I've been promoted at work after less than a year and a half of being back. Me and Jen are going to the Maldives for our honeymoon. We've moved to a new house. I just live a normal life now and I wouldn't have been able to without the stem cell transplant. Because of Pascal, the doctors have said to me, 'You are cured.' And that's amazing.
My message to all is: please register! The donation itself is so easy, fast and pain-free. Your effort is minimal compared to the effect you can create for a person on this planet, their family and friends included!
If you're aged 16–30 and are in good general health, you could give someone like Ross a second chance of life. Join the stem cell register.