The 24 September will no longer be an ordinary day for Mark Ellis, 58, from Basildon and Andrew Reid, 36, from Chester. The pair met each other for the first time at Woburn Abbey where Mark was able to thank Andrew personally, after surviving leukemia thanks to Andrew’s donated stem cells.
Andrew joined the Anthony Nolan stem cell donor register in his first year at university. He has since qualified as a pharmacist and coincidentally now works in a hospital ward managing medication for chemotherapy patients. He was told he was a match for Mark an astonishing 14 years after signing up.
Meanwhile, at the beginning of 2019 Mark was at his fittest. He loved going to the gym most days until the day his left leg felt sore, and he thought he had pulled a muscle. He continued to experience pain and unexplained tiredness. On visiting his doctor, Mark was told he needed an urgent blood test and things spiraled from there.
‘I was called in the same day of my blood test. When the doctor told me I had leukemia and that chemotherapy treatment would start immediately, I was terrified. My wife Wendy and I both cried,’ remembers Mark.
After a series of chemotherapy treatment and hospital stays, Mark needed a stem cell transplant to completely cure his leukemia. Anthony Nolan is a charity that works to save lives of people with blood cancer, using its register to match potential stem cell donors and those in need, and thankfully, the charity found Andrew was a perfect genetic match for Mark.
Andrew says: ‘Donating my stem cells was such a smooth and straight forward process. It felt like a minor procedure for something so big as helping save a life. I can only encourage more young men to join the register like I did at university.’
He continues: ‘Two years after I donated, I was asked if I wanted to share some basic contact details with my stem cell recipient and get in touch. I didn’t have to think about the answer, of course I wanted to know how they were getting on and what the process had been like for them.’
The first thing Andrew said to Mark when they met was that ‘he looked really well’.
‘I recall feeling very nervous...a sudden flashback of my illness journey hit me. But as soon as I saw Andrew, no words could describe the amount of gratitude I felt,’ said an emotional Mark.
Mark recalls: ‘Our meeting was superb. While some people find first meetings with strangers awkward, Andrew and I instantly got on and we hugged. He’s an absolute gentleman and with his pharmaceutical background, he was very keen to know everything going on with my health.’
After a stroll around Woburn village, the pair enjoyed a chat over a drink and meal with their wives and, before they knew it, three and half hours had gone by.
Henny Braund MBE, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said: ‘We’re happy for Mark and Andrew that they were able to meet in person and strengthen their bond. Theirs is an inspirational friendship which we hope will inspire young men in Cheshire and Essex to sign up as stem cell donors and give hope to strangers in desperate need of a transplant. Our data shows that young men account for more than half of all stem cell donors yet make up only 18% of the Anthony Nolan register.’
Mark remains cancer-free, happy, and is making a steady return to the gym.
In the UK, more than 15,000 people lose their lives to blood cancer every year, making blood cancer the third biggest cancer killer.
Around 2,400 people need a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor in the UK every year, and that is why it is crucial that more people sign-up to be a donor, particularly young men in good general health aged between 16 and 30. Research has shown that younger donors increase a patients' chance of surviving.