Health: Leeds students rally to help search for stem cells

Matt Harrup
Matt Harrup
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OVER 2,000 Leeds students are signing up every year for a scheme which could save the life of a stranger.

They are registering with Leeds Marrow, a student-run branch of the Anthony Nolan charity.

The charity runs and maintains the stem cell donor register, which gives patients suffering from bone cancers such as leukaemia the chance of finding someone who may be able to provide a lifesaving stem cell transplant.

Several of the Leeds Marrow members have been told they are a good match – and called upon to donate stem cells.

From simply giving a sample of saliva, they’ve been contacted months or years later to say tests show they could potentially help a desperately ill patient.

Matt Harrup did just that after finding out about the charity at a Leeds University Freshers’ Fair.

Over a year-and-a-half later, he was told he could be a match and asked to go for extra blood tests.

After these, he was told he was compatible and preparations were made for him to go to London to donate.

Matt, 20, said he didn’t expect to be called upon – at least not so soon after signing up.

“It was a bit of a shock – but a nice shock,” said the third year performance design student.

He underwent further checks and had injections to stimulate his bone marrow before the procedure in April.

And though it sounds invasive, he said it wasn’t at all.

“It’s a myth that it’s a painful procedure. It’s absolutely not true,” said Matt, vice president and fundraising lead at Leeds Marrow.

A needle was inserted into his arm to remove blood, which then goes through a machine to extract stem cells and then the blood is replaced in the other arm.

The whole thing takes just a few hours and can only lead to minor side effects afterwards.

“I felt great – I felt like I’d done a really good thing, giving someone a chance at life,” Matt said.

“Anything I’m going through is nothing compared to what my recipient is going through.

“There’s someone out there in the world who’s far better off because of a couple of days out of my life, and that’s a brilliant feeling.

“It’s a little bit of your life to make a big difference to someone else’s.”

Because of the length of time it takes to see whether a stem cell transplant has worked, and strict confidentiality rules, Matt won’t hear anything for two years about the donor. After that, if they both agree, they could be given a chance to find out about each other.

Fellow donor Ollie Clark is also in that position.

The 22-year-old has just graduated from Leeds University and also signed up through Leeds Marrow in his first year.

More recently, he was also told he was compatible with a patient in need and earlier this month went through the donation process.

He also said that people often get the wrong idea about the procedure: “The only pain was when the needle went in,” he said.

“It was just like giving blood. I think there are some people who don’t sign up as they think it’s going to be some kind of horrendous operation.

“Everything went so smoothly and it was so easy. I just had to lie in bed watching TV for five hours, and it’s pretty much painless. To be honest I think it should be an entry requirement for Leeds University to join the bone marrow register.”

The geography graduate said the Anthony Nolan charity gave him great support all the way through and he was excited to be asked to donate.

“When I got an email telling me I was a match, it was pretty cool that I was given the opportunity to help somebody out,” he added.

With more than 2,000 Leeds students signing up every year, Leeds Marrow is the biggest of all the charity’s student volunteer groups.

However Leeds Marrow president Alex Olney said: “More donors are always needed, and with both the signing up and donation process being so simple, we hope that Leeds students will continue to play a crucial role in making sure everyone can find their lifesaving match.”

* Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Around 2,000 people in the UK need a bone marrow, or stem cell, transplant each year. This is usually their last chance of survival. Anthony Nolan uses its register to match potential donors to patients. Young donors are most likely to be chosen to donate.

For more on Leeds Marrow, visit www. facebook.com/leedsmarrow, www.leedsmarrow.co.uk, or anthonynolan.org for general information.

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