‘I was counting down the days to contacting my recipient.’ – Jacob’s donation story

February 25, 2020
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When Jacob signed up to the stem cell register thanks to the wonderful Marrow group at his university, he never realised what an impact it would have on not just his life… but the life of Susan, the person whose life he then saved a few years later. Jacob shares his donation story here, and how much hearing from Susan meant to him.

When I was at university, someone stopped me and said, ‘By giving up a few hours, you can save someone’s life.’ How could I say no to that? They explained they were from Marrow, Anthony Nolan’s student network, and told me all about how stem cell donation can cure blood cancer.

A few years later, not only have I donated my stem cells, I’m now in touch with the recipient - a woman named Susan, a mum, who is alive and well and loving her life, all thanks to a few hours of my time and this amazing charity that made it happen.

She was always in my thoughts

I remember the day of my donation, thinking about this anonymous woman my stem cells were going to. She was always in my thoughts. I sent her a card, anonymously through Anthony Nolan, just to say I hope she was recovering well.

October 2019 would mark two years since donating and at that point, if you both agree, you can swap details. I was counting down the days, hoping that she would want to be in touch too!

One day I got a message from Anthony Nolan asking if I would like to be in touch - obviously I said yes! Soon after, I got a text from Susan and since then we’ve been sending long emails back and forth, sharing photos, it’s been lovely.

I found out that Susan is around the same age as my mum - they were even born in the same month! - which has made it feel much more personal. I just can’t help but think, ‘That could have been my mum, and that transplant could have been the difference between me losing her or getting to spend the rest of our years together.’

While that’s definitely made it more personal, honestly, whether they had been male, female, young, old, it wouldn’t have mattered. I’d just be glad that I’d given someone another chance.

Getting to know Susan has made me realise what a miracle this process is

It’s hard to fathom just how much of an impact donating your stem cells has to someone’s life, and their family’s I feel like people my age can feel invincible and it can be hard to comprehend what it must feel like to be that unwell and to be relying on a stranger to save your life, as well as the feelings of her family, thinking they might lose her.

It’s mind-blowing how it all works. Susan and I were a ‘perfect match’. It really was a little miracle. I was the one person in the world who could give her a chance of surviving. That’s why I’ve been telling everyone about this and urging them to join the register. YOU could be someone’s perfect match… but if you’re not on the register, it’s no good.

I feel so lucky that I’ve had this opportunity. It feels amazing to know that I’ve been a part of something that has had such a big impact on someone’s life. And it’s so easy! It’s easier than running marathons, it’s easier than most of the charitable things that people do.

When I look at the impact it’s had on both our lives, I think she’s someone I’ll be in touch with for a very long time. Her children have their mum, her grandchildren have their grandmother. I really can’t articulate how much of a miracle this process is - you just need to experience it for yourself.

Demystifying stem cell donation

I think one of the main barriers of being on the stem cell register is awareness - firstly getting the word out, because not many people know about this, but also dispelling the myths. When I’ve told friends about it, they often thought it’s painful,  it couldn’t have been more comfortable for me, and I’m speaking as someone who has quite a severe needle phobia.

I just thought, ‘If I’m a match for someone, I have to do this, it could change someone’s life.’ In the end, I was really well looked after and it was actually a good experience. There were other lads there doing the same thing, we were all a similar age, and it was just nice chatting to them.

It’s a team effort - and we need you

Susan is so doting with her praise, which is lovely, but I don’t feel like I can sit here and say ‘Yeah, that was me, I did that’ because it wasn’t just me - I was a small part of a massive process that is carried out by an amazing charity. It’s the charity that is saving not just Susan’s life, but loads of people’s lives.

I don’t want to take the credit it for it really, I don’t feel like a ‘hero’, I’m just someone who volunteered to give up an afternoon. And it all started with those student volunteers signing me up to the register, giving up their time. They saved Susan’s life as much as anyone else did.

I really do feel so proud of myself and proud to be associated with Anthony Nolan. I’ve tweeted about it and told all my friends. When people tell me they’ve signed up, it makes me so happy. It’s just about getting the word out, telling as many people as possible that there’s this thing you can do that’s so easy and it can make the biggest difference to someone’s life. It’s mind-blowing. You put your name on the register and one day, you could end up saving someone’s life. I can’t think of anything in my life that I’m prouder of than this. So, what are you waiting for?

This week is LonDonors week – a week of donor recruitment events in universities across the city to celebrate its diversity and lifesaving potential. Head to anthonynolan.org/londonors to find out more!