65 years old and living in Germany – that’s all I know about him, but I did save his life. It was so easy to do, and you could do the same. That’s why I wanted to tell my Story.
In 2009, my family and I went on a trip to Lake Constance and came across a campaign to get people to sign up to the German bone marrow donation register (DKMS). My sister-in-law and her family were keen to register, so my family and I went along with them. Today, all they generally need to register you with is a swab from your mouth, but back then I needed to give a small blood sample; nothing too onerous! It was quick to do and as time went by I forgot that my name was even on the register. Then five years later, in October 2014, to my surprise I received a letter from the DKMS, informing me that I could be a potential match for a bone marrow donation and asking me to make an appointment for confirmatory typing as soon as possible. I simply had to go to my local healthcare facility and give another blood sample, which was then sent off to the DKMS for Analysis.
I had to wait four long weeks for the results. You really hope that you will be able to help someone with leukaemia, but you also know that the chances of finding a suitable donor outside of a patient’s immediate family is one in several million. In my case, however, the necessary characteristics matched and in mid-November I found out that I was a ‘genetic twin’ of the Patient.
Before I was allowed to donate, I had to undergo several checks to ensure I didn’t have any conditions such as hepatitis. These all came back clear, so the DKMS double-checked with me that I would be happy to be a donor. This decision was a big responsibility, because as soon as a date was set for me to donate my bone marrow, the recipient was prepared for treatment. This meant that his own stem cells were killed off using chemicals to ensure that only the new cells would be active in his body after the procedure. This is vital because otherwise the old cells would continue to produce cancer cells. During this time, the recipient is extremely vulnerable to infection and their body cannot protect them against any attack. Without a donation, they simply will not survive. I agreed to go ahead with the bone marrow donation and spent the first two weeks of December taking really good care of myself: thanks to MANN+HUMMEL I was able postpone my business travel, and I even made sure to take extra care when crossing the road.
As I had chosen to have my stem cells harvested from my blood, I had to inject myself with various medications to increase the number of stem cells in my blood. On 16 December I travelled to Tübingen for a special procedure to remove these stem cells. The procedure took around five hours and was completely harmless. I was able to go home again the same day. Even the flu-like symptoms that the medication caused were nothing to complain about, and just two days after the procedure I was completely back to normal.
What happens now? As I mentioned before, I don’t know who my stem cells helped because in Germany donors and patients can only learn each other’s identity two years after the procedure. I do know, however, that he is doing well. Of course I would be very interested to meet my ‘genetic twin’ in person, but I’ll have to wait at least another year. For now I am just pleased that I was lucky enough to be able to help someone. The experience has made me realise just how precious life is and taught me to value what is really important and not worry about the little things. I don’t want to miss out on anything! I would encourage everyone to follow my example, because leukaemia can affect anyone and all of us could help save someone in Need.