A new animated comic is urging young men to follow in the steps of their comic book heroes and become lifesavers by joining the UK stem cell register.
The animated comic, Donny and the Professor Cure Blood Cancer, is produced by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan, and hopes to encourage people – especially young men – to join the stem cell register.
The series – drawn by Anthony Nolan in-house designer Rowan Caney - has been called “funny and whip-smart” and spoofs the nostalgic, earnest tone of classics like Hanna-Barbera and Thunderbirds.
The first episode can be watched here.
The three-part series will see Donny and the Professor embark on a ‘fantastic voyage’, entering the bloodstream to see what a stem cell donation actually does. It also aims to bust some of the myths around blood cancer – such as the myth that it’s painful.
The inspiration for Donny came from Ethan Buttress, who is one of the youngest people in the UK to donate stem cells to a stranger. He was just 17 when he gave a desperately ill child a chance of life in 2014.
Artist Rowan said: “Everyone who joins the Anthony Nolan stem cell register is a potential lifesaver. Ethan’s story is really special and he was the inspiration for the character but we believe all young men who join our register are heroes.”
Ethan said: “It’s a thrill to be the inspiration for Anthony Nolan’s new mythbusting series. I’m a massive fan of comics and cartoons. I read Marvel comics and I really love the Japanese Studio Ghibli films and Adventure Time. Now I’m joining the likes of Finn and Captain America! I can’t believe I’ve been turned into a comic book character.”
Now 19, Ethan is living in Camden and working at designer retailer Oliver Spencer.
He first heard about Anthony Nolan in June 2014, when Anthony Nolan visited his school. He signed up – by providing a spit sample - and just a few months later discovered he was a match for a child with blood cancer.
Ethan said: “It was so easy to sign up. I popped my spit in a tube and sent it off to Anthony Nolan. Then they extracted my DNA and put it on the national database. I knew Anthony Nolan would call me if I was a match for someone needing a transplant. But I pretty much forgot all about it. Then in August that year, I got a phone call saying I was a match for a young child.”
In August 2014, Ethan donated stem cells under general anaesthetic – most donations now take place using an outpatient procedure similar to giving blood. Due to strict anonymity laws, Ethan wasn’t told who received his stem cells.
He explained: “There are lots of myths about bone marrow donation – such as it being really painful. But it wasn’t a big deal. After the procedure, I felt tired but that was the worst of it. Honestly, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
“It’s crazy to think that we were all born with the power to save someone’s life. Now, I really want to encourage more people to do it and I hope Donny and the Professor can convince a few of you too.”
Once you are on the register you have a 1 in 900 chance of being asked to donate in the next five years. But your chance of being chosen to donate depends on your age and sex. A young man aged 16-30 has a 1 in 200 chance of being chosen to donate.
Ann O Leary, Head of Register and Development at Anthony Nolan, explains: “Young men like Ethan make up only 15% of our register but provide more than half of all donations. We need more young men to sign up as they are underrepresented. Young people are most likely to be chosen to donate as they provide the best outcomes for patients and are less likely to have long-term health problems which might delay or prevent donation. Early indications from Anthony Nolan’s recent research are confirming that the use of donors under 30 is associated with a trend towards better survival rates."