A UK rap fan, who loves to listen to M1llionz, Ninioh and Brent Faiyaz, has donated his stem cells to a blood cancer patient in desperate need of a stem cell transplant, giving them a second chance of life. September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, and he now wants to share his story to encourage more young people from ethnic minority backgrounds to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register so ethnicity does not determine who survives blood cancer.
Ezra Cunningham, 24, a design engineer from Birmingham signed up to the Anthony Nolan register when a guest speaker from the charity came to his workplace, to talk to him and his colleagues about stem cell donation. He was inspired to join the register after hearing that people from ethnic minority backgrounds who are in need of a transplant, are much less likely to find a matching donor.
Ezra explained: ‘It only seemed logical to sign up and one of the main drivers for me signing up was reading the stats on patient-donor matching for people from ethnic minority backgrounds.’
Only 37% of transplant recipients from minority ethnic backgrounds receive the best stem cell donor match from an unrelated donor. This is compared to 72% of patients from white Caucasian backgrounds. Genetically, patients in need of a lifesaving transplant are far more likely to match with stem cell donors of a similar ethnicity.
Ezra said: ‘Considering there's potentially billions of people to match with on the earth, I thought both of those figures were way too low. But coming from an ethnic minority background definitely made the 37% figure hit close to home. I felt that if it were me in need of a stem cell transplant, I'd be wishing that more people were registered.’
Six months after signing up to the register, Ezra was contacted by Anthony Nolan who told him the exciting news that he was a match for a patient in desperate need of a transplant.
Ezra said: ‘At first I was concerned because it was in the middle of the pandemic, but in the end that just solidified the importance, as the risks for the recipient were even higher. Fortunately, the team at Anthony Nolan made the entire process so simple, so I had little to worry about.’ Ezra donated his stem cells at a donation centre in London in March 2021 and on the eve of his donation, he travelled to London to stay in a hotel. All of his expenses were covered by Anthony Nolan.
Ezra explained: ‘When I first told my friends about the donation, they made it sound like a huge procedure, but actually it was really minor. The hardest thing was sitting down for 4 hours straight, but lockdown helped me practice that already. Before I knew it the donation was over and I was ready to go home. It was so rewarding and surprisingly easy!’ Ezra donated via a method named PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell collection), a simple, outpatient procedure similar to giving blood. 90% of all stem cell donations happen this way.
‘I know how much it means to people with blood cancer and their families, I’d say just do it. I know life can be busy but I’m sure we can all save two days of our lives to save someone else’s.’
Alex Cupit, Online Recruitment Lead at Anthony Nolan, said: ‘Diversifying the stem cell register is a huge priority for Anthony Nolan. If you're between the ages of 16-30 and from a minority ethnic background, you have the potential to change the lives of blood cancer patients, who need people just like you, ready and waiting on the stem cell register to give them a second chance of life.
‘Together, we can work towards a future where no one is waiting for a match.’
To find out more about Anthony Nolan and how to join the register, please visit: anthonynolan.org/lifesaver