Last Christmas a student from London received what he says was ‘the best Christmas present ever’ - the chance to save a stranger’s life.
Will Briant, 23, from Kennington, was found to be the best match for a patient with blood cancer in desperate need of a stem cell transplant. Will recently received a letter informing him that his anonymous recipient’s transplant had been a success, and that he is now doing well.
Will initially joined the Anthony Nolan stem cell register in 2014. His girlfriend, who volunteered with Edinburg University’s Blood, Bone Marrow and Transplant Society, which is part of blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan’s student volunteer network called ‘Marrow’, suggested that he sign up.
Will said: ‘My girlfriend, Libby, told me this amazing statistic that a quarter of all stem cell donors sign up through Marrow at university, so I couldn’t not join.
‘If it wasn’t for Marrow and for Libby, I wouldn’t have become a donor and given someone hope of a second chance of life just before Christmas.’
After Will joined the Anthony Nolan register the charity confirmed his 'tissue type'. Every time the charity was informed that someone needed a transplant it compared the patient’s tissue type to Will’s and over 750,000 others on the register, as well as registers across the world.
In December last year, Will received an email from Anthony Nolan, informing him that he had come up as a potential match for a blood cancer patient in desperate need of a stem cell transplant. Will then went to his GP for blood tests, to confirm that he was in fact the best possible match.
Will said: ‘Just a week before Christmas, I got the best Christmas present ever. I was told that I was the best match for the patient, and I would be donating early in the new year!
‘I was so excited. When you sign up you know that it’s such a tiny chance that you’ll be found as the best match for someone, so to actually be chosen felt really exciting. Also, because it was just before Christmas, it felt quite exciting to know that the patient would find out that they had a match just in time for Christmas!
On average, people who join the stem cell register have around a 1 in 800 chance of being asked to donate in the next five years, but for men aged 16-30 it’s 1 in 200. This is why Anthony Nolan need more young men to join the register.
At the beginning of this year, having spent Christmas at home with his family, Will donated his stem cells at The London Clinic.
Will said: ‘For four days before the donation I had a course of G-CSF injections to increase the number of stem cells I was producing. This caused mild flu like symptoms, I just felt a bit tired and achy really. The whole way through, I kept thinking about the recipient, and how, in this context, I was absolutely delighted to have mild flu-like symptoms! It was quite strange to be doing it for real, after talking to so many potential donors when I volunteered with Marrow at university!’
Libby, the same girlfriend who had suggested Will consider signing up to the register four years earlier, accompanied him to his donation.
Will said: ‘I sat in a hospital bed for four hours and was so pampered by the staff there! There was a huge choice of different lunches, endless coffees and I got to watch programmes on my iPad.’
Following his donation Will then went back to his studies and his job, barely giving a second thought to what he’d just done. However, this all changed when a month after the donation he received a letter of thanks from the recipient of his stem cells.
Will said: ‘It was honestly the best letter I’ve ever received. It was especially powerful because it really hit home, that not only had I given him a second chance of life, but also, I had given his wife, his children, his grandchildren and his friends more precious time with him.’
Patients and recipients must remain anonymous for two years following a transplant, but they are able to communicate via anonymous letters and cards. After the two-year period, if both parties agree, they are allowed to meet.
Just recently, Will also received a letter from the hospital at which his recipient received their stem cell transplant to say that the donation had been successful and even though recovery can be a long process, he is currently recovering well. Will is hoping that they will both exchange Christmas cards this year.
Anthony Nolan is the charity that finds matching stem cell donors for people with blood cancer and blood disorders and gives them a second chance of life. It costs £40 for Anthony Nolan to add each new donor to the register, so the charity needs financial support to help it continue to give patients, their family and their friends hope.
Terence Lovell, Director of Engagement at Anthony Nolan says: ‘Our amazing stem cell donors, like Will, continue to enable many patients with blood cancer to spend Christmas with their loved ones, who wouldn’t be here without their act of kindness.’
‘Anyone wanting to support our work can visit our website and make a donation, which will help give someone like Will’s recipient, a second chance of life in the future. Without your support there is no cure.’
Anthony Nolan also carries out ground-breaking research to save more lives and provide information and support to patients after a stem cell transplant, through its clinical nurse specialists and psychologists, who help guide patients through their recovery. Find out more about Anthony Nolan this Christmas by visiting https://www.anthonynolan.org/