Sean donating stem cells
A selfless teenager has travelled from Liverpool to London during the second national Covid 19 (coronavirus) lockdown, to donate stem cells to a stranger in desperate need of a potentially life-saving stem cell transplant.
Sean Robinson, 18, a teaching assistant from Liverpool, joined the Anthony Nolan stem cell register two years ago, when on the National Citizen Service’s summer programme. Last month he received a call to let him know he had been matched with a patient whose only chance of survival was through a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor.
Sean says: ‘I first came across the Anthony Nolan register during my time on the NCS summer programme, just after I had turned 16. We were researching possible projects to support, and I stumbled across their website. Although I wasn’t completely aware of the process, I knew a friend of a friend who had received a stem cell transplant in the past so I was excited to know I could sign up! In the end, we focused on Maggie’s cancer charity for the project but a few of us signed up to the register’.
Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan recruits people aged 16–30 to the stem cell register as research has shown younger people, especially young men, are more likely to be chosen to donate.
Sean was arriving for work when he received notification from Anthony Nolan that he’d come up as a match for someone in need.
‘It was a lot to digest that someone somewhere had similar DNA to me, and I could perhaps have the chance to save a life. The feeling is hard to explain, but it was incredible, and I was eager to get on the phone to discuss my next steps.’
Sean’s donation was scheduled for November and he was asked to self-isolate for two weeks to reduce his chances of contracting coronavirus and being unable to donate.
He says: ‘Unfortunately, due to the uncertain times we are living in, my donation did get postponed twice because of myself having to self-isolate and then again when something was wrong with my blood sample. But then it all went through perfectly at the beginning of December, and I got the train down to London to begin.’
90% of people donate via their bloodstream in a straightforward process, called peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection. Sean, who donated via PBSC, was given a series of injections in his arm to stimulate the stem cells in his blood. ‘The only side effect I experienced from that was some minor back pain which paracetamol quickly solved’ he says.
The donation day itself involved Sean remaining in the same position for four hours, while his stem cells were extracted. He recalls: ‘You’re hooked up to a machine, which if you’ve donated blood before, feels just like that, except for slightly longer. And you get a lunch out of it! I was well looked after and both the Anthony Nolan team, and the team at The London Clinic were incredibly helpful in addressing my many, many questions.’
With the collected stem cells
Amazed at how such a straightforward process can equate to saving a life, Sean continues: ‘The thought that kept me motivated during my experience was “If I needed this treatment, I know a complete stranger would be there for me”.’
He finishes: ‘If anyone reading this hasn’t signed up to join yet, I would urge you to sign up today. You could give someone the best gift possible, a second chance of life.’
Rebecca Pritchard, Director of Register Development at Anthony Nolan says: ‘These are extraordinary times. Sean has done an extraordinary and incredibly selfless thing by giving someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder their best chance at survival.
‘Transplants continue to happen around the world, meaning we still need people to join the UK stem cell register. Every person who, like Sean, joins the Anthony Nolan register, has the potential to help save someone in desperate need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant. We particularly need young men aged 16–30 to join the Anthony Nolan register as they are the most likely to be chosen to donate.’
Sean was inspired to sign up as a stem cell donor while undertaking a NCS’s summer programme. Almost 600,000 young people have taken part in NCS to date, giving a total of over 14.5 million hours on social action.
People aged 16–30 can join the register online at www.anthonynolan.org/savealife