A mother from Jersey is appealing for stem cell donors to step forward after being told her childhood sweetheart needs a transplant to save his life.
Antonio Ferreira, a gardener, was diagnosed with Sézary syndrome - an aggressive and rare blood cancer in autumn 2017 after experiencing skin irritation. He is receiving regular treatment in Jersey and London, but three months ago doctors told the father-of-one his best chance of survival is to have a stem cell transplant: cells, with the same tissue type, to replace and repair his own damaged cells.
Tony has four siblings in Madeira, Portugal, however none of them are a match so Anthony Nolan is actively searching for an unrelated donor.
Tony’s wife Osvalda, who has known him since she was 14, is campaigning to raise awareness of Anthony Nolan, the only UK charity which finds and matches donors, of the correct tissue types, with patients who need stem cell transplants.
Osvalda, who married Tony when she was 16, said: “When doctors told us Tony had a rare form of cancer, I was shocked. It’s not something you expect, and it’s really hard to pull yourself together all you can do is hope – a word I use a lot. We were hoping that one of Tony’s family could be a match but now we’re hoping for the kindness of a stranger.
“My daughter recently asked me the hardest question I have had to answer. She asked me ‘will dad die?’. I had to tell her that I didn’t know, but we have to keep up hope, and pray for the best. That’s a really hard conversation to have.”
The Ferreira family is encouraging people from Portugal and the Mediterranean to come forward as there is currently a shortage of stem cell donors from minority ethnic backgrounds on the Anthony Nolan register.
Karen Archer, Anthony Nolan's Regional Register Development Manager, said: “Tony's family are sharing his story to raise awareness of how simple it is to give hope to a stranger in need.
“You could be the perfect match for someone, like Tony. If you’re aged 16-30 and are in general good health you could save someone’s life, simply by completing a form and swabbing your cheek; all in the time it takes to make a cup of tea.”
Osvalda is working with Jersey Friends, a group of volunteers who fundraise and raise awareness of Anthony Nolan and encourage people to join the stem cell register. The Friends Group has raised more than £500,000 for Anthony Nolan over the last 24 years to help the charity’s work recruiting potential donors to the stem cell register.
Jersey Friends are holding #Match4Tony events at St Thomas’s Church on Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 July to encourage people aged 16-30 to join the Anthony Nolan register.
Doreen Reed says: ““As volunteers of Jersey Friends, when we found out about Tony’s need, we wanted to rally together to support the family and encourage young people from the Portuguese community in Jersey to sign up as potential stem cell donors.”
Of her childhood sweetheart Tony, Osvalda says: “I’ve known Tony most of my life. Life for us is each other – we’ve been together longer than half of our lives, and we want to grow old together.
“We’re grateful to have support from Jersey Friends and are hopeful that somebody out there is a match. We’re really focussed on preparing for what’s to come. By talking about our experiences, I really want to encourage people to join the register, to give hope to another family.”
If you’re over 30, have already joined the register or just want to support in other ways, then you can help fund the Anthony Nolan register. It costs £40 to recruit each new potential lifesaver to the register and financial donations help the charity to grow the stem cell register and find more matches for people like Tony.
For more information about #Match4Tony events, please contact Jersey Friends of Anthony Nolan on firstname.lastname@example.org