The family of much loved Wrexham DJ, who was diagnosed with blood cancer last summer, are appealing for more people to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register, after being told there was no matching donor for him.
Mike Wignell, 68, was only a few weeks retired from his thirty-three-year career playing the pubs and clubs of Wrexham when he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), a type of blood cancer, in July 2019 “by chance”.
He had visited his local A&E with an unrelated issue and while there underwent a blood test. Mike’s GP pursued more tests believing something “wasn’t right”, but nobody knew at this stage how serious Mike’s condition was. Although he’d experienced fatigue and aching joints, he had put it down to the recent handyman work he had been undertaking. The long-time motorbike enthusiast had just finished building his own garage, where he planned to spend his retirement fixing up old bikes for pleasure.
Further tests revealed that Mike had a condition known as Myelodysplasia, a pre-curser to leukaemia.
‘His consultant called and ordered him to go Manchester’s Christie Hospital right away’ recalls Mike’s wife Alison.
‘Treatment started almost immediately,’ Alison continues. She spent six weeks sleeping by Mike’s bedside in the Christie. ‘He went through two lots of chemo. The first lot took the cancer away, but it came back. The next round cleared Mike’s cancer, only for it to return again for a second time.’
Mike’s medical team were transparent right from the start. With the chemotherapy not working out the way they had hoped, the was one final avenue they could explore; that of a stem cell transplant from a healthy donor. New, healthy, stem cells would be given to Mike through his bloodstream to grow and create more healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
‘We didn’t know much about anything at that stage’ recalls Alison, referring to stem cell donation.
‘There was no matching donor in Mike’s family, but the consultant was confident, as Mike is a White British male, he had a good chance of finding an unrelated match on the register’.
Unfortunately Mike was found to have a rare tissue type, and as result there was no match for him on the register.
Describing how she felt when she heard the news, Alison says: ‘Devastated, gutted. You don’t take it for granted [there will be a match] but you hope and hope. Every day you think you’re going to get that phone call. It just never happened for us’
Alison is now hoping young people, especially young men, who remember popular Mike from the Wrexham music circuit, are inspired by his story and encouraged to join the stem cell register.
‘Everyone’s just trying to be positive, something will turn up. It’s not Mike’s time yet, he wanted to go to the Isle of Man TT and to Spain. He’d just set up a workshop to do up bikes. Apart from this illness he has so much life in him. But as time goes on, it’s not looking great’
The added complexity of being a blood cancer patient – one of the most at risk catagories - in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the stress on Alison.
‘It’s made everything ten times worse. I won’t watch the news now’
Having worked “every day” all her life, Alison has not been able work much since Mike’s diagnosis. When she wasn’t in the Christie keeping him company, she was caring for him at home. She praises her “amazing employer” for their support, but also worries about taking so much time off.
When asked what she say to young people thinking about joining the register to help someone like Mike, Alison says that she was amazed to discover how easy it is [just a form and a cheek swab].
‘Donating is so straightforward. It’s such a positive thing. It’s an amazing thing really.
‘Not only could it save Mike’s life, it could save our family’s life.’
Rebecca Sedgewick, National Recruitment Manager at Anthony Nolan, says: ‘By all accounts Mike was a man about Wrexham, a big personality, who many will remember well. He has had his retirement planned out when he received his diagnosis and forcing him to put his life on hold. But there could be a cure out there.
‘Mike has joined the five people a day, who start their search for an unrelated stem cell donor. Every single person who signs up to the register has the potential to give hope to someone like Mike in need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant. We’re especially keen for young men to consider signing up; they account for over 50% of those chosen to donate but make up just 18% of the Anthony Nolan register. We really need young men to visit our website, find out more and help us address this imbalance.
‘Together, we can work towards a future where nobody is waiting for their match.’
Anthony Nolan recruits people aged 16-30 to the stem cell register as research has shown younger people are more likely to be chosen to donate.
They also carry 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.
It costs £40 to recruit each potential donor to the register, so Anthony Nolan relies on financial support.
Find out more at www.anthonynolan.org