After two transplants, Mark is enjoying life with his family and has even run a marathon.
Mark Ritson, 49, from Sheffield had a stem cell transplant in 2013. His donor was 19-year-old Jacqueline from Germany, who amazingly had only signed up to the register a few weeks earlier.
After the transplant Mark was looking forward to returning home and spending time with his wife and new baby daughter, who was born 5 days after his first transplant, but within weeks his blood counts had dropped and it became clear that the transplant had failed to engraft.
‘The doctors had to re-approach Jacqueline for another donation and I was nervous that she would be feeling ill after the transplant and wouldn’t want to do it again,’ said Mark. ‘What I didn’t know was that she had been ringing the transplant centre in Germany asking how it went, and when she heard the transplant had failed she offered to donate again, before they even asked.’
Mark spent around 200 days in hospital with complications during his first year post-transplant. ‘It was hard not being able to spend time with my daughter and having such a long time off work, but as time went on I got stronger and stronger, and after 18 months I was starting to feel back to normal,’ he said.
‘I did wonder who my donor was, and as soon as a year had passed I wrote a letter to her through Anthony Nolan. I was interested to know more about her because I now had her immune system – even my blood group changed to hers. I wanted to thank her as I knew I wouldn’t have lived without those transplants.’
The pair continued to exchange emails and they met for the first time at Easter 2016. ‘Jacqueline flew over from Germany and stayed with us for three days,’ said Mark. ‘On Thursday we went to the hospital that treated me and met the transplant team, which was a special moment for all of us.
‘When you need a transplant you can’t choose the person that will save you, but if I could I would have chosen Jacqueline. She was a lovely person and we will see each other again in 2017 when we are running a half marathon together in Germany.
’In 2015 we had a second baby, a little boy, and without Jacqueline and the second successful transplant I would have lost the chance to see my two little children grow up. It was the greatest gift I will ever have in my life.’
Mark also ran the Virgin Money London Marathon 2016 to raise money for Anthony Nolan – and just as importantly, to show other transplant recipients what is possible.
‘I want to show other transplant recipients that you can still lead a normal and active lifestyle, despite what your body has been through.’
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