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Plea for help from east London to find stem cell blood donors as Covid crisis hits worldwide search

PUBLISHED: 10:00 18 September 2020 | UPDATED: 14:44 21 September 2020

Research into stem cell cancer at Queen Mary University's Whitechapel campus. Picture: Jorge Duarte Estevao

Research into stem cell cancer at Queen Mary University's Whitechapel campus. Picture: Jorge Duarte Estevao

Jorge Duarte Estevao

A plea for blood stem cell donors to help save lives is targeting east London following a dramatic 49 per cent nationwide slump in new registrations during the Covid-19 emergency.

Queen Mary University's Blizard labs in Whitechapel where science takes up the search for stem cell cancer cure. Picture: Morley von SternbergQueen Mary University's Blizard labs in Whitechapel where science takes up the search for stem cell cancer cure. Picture: Morley von Sternberg

Donors are desperately needed to combat the impending influx of new blood cancer cases following a delay in diagnoses caused by the Coronavirus lockdown.

Now the international DKMS blood cancer charity known as ‘We Delete Blood Cancer’ is running a blood cancer awareness month to try and fill the gap in donor registrations.

“The need for transplants is even more urgent now than before lockdown,” a charity spokesman said.

“The gap in finding donors is worrying as it’s even more important to offer hope during the Coronavirus outbreak to people with devastating blood cancers, whose lives have also been harmed by the pandemic. A transplant is their last hope of staying alive.”

Sam Schmidt... giving stem cell blood just before Covid emergency caused donor registrations to slump. Picture: DKMS charitySam Schmidt... giving stem cell blood just before Covid emergency caused donor registrations to slump. Picture: DKMS charity

Donor Sam Schmidt in Limehouse underwent a life-giving transplant during lockdown to donate stem cells after being successfully matched with a patient from a worldwide search.

The 25-year-old accounts manager registered with the charity when he moved into Narrow Street from west London after being inspired by Peter McCleave’s story, a father of two young boys found to have blood cancer after being fit and running the Ironman triathlon.

“It’s quick and easy to sign-up to the stem cell blood cancer register,” Sam explained. “You just take a cotton swab of your mouth and send it off in the post.

“The process isn’t that bad, like giving blood. I just lay down and binge watched TV for a few hours, but knowing I was potentially saving someone’s life.”

Peter McCleave with his son young son Maxwell... waiting for worldwide donor match to stay alive. Picture: McCleave familyPeter McCleave with his son young son Maxwell... waiting for worldwide donor match to stay alive. Picture: McCleave family

The search for donors continues amid widespread confusion about what is involved, which holds many volunteers back, the charity says.

Among the biggest misconceptions is thinking the process is invasive, difficult, painful or involving a needle in the spine.

But nine-out-of-10 donations in reality are made with blood taken from one arm into a machine that extracts the stem cells before being put back through the other arm, usually taking four to six hours.

“It’s incredible knowing you could be someone’s only hope of survival,” Sam tells you. “Covid-19 doesn’t stop other people needing your help.”

Stem cell under the microscope... Queen Mary Universirty's medical research. Picture: QMULStem cell under the microscope... Queen Mary Universirty's medical research. Picture: QMUL

Sam unfortunately was no match for Peter McCleave, the patient who had inspired him to sign up.

Peter has been given just seven years to live, yet still hopes to find his matching donor.

Yet he has encouraged through his public speaking events people like Sam in Limehouse to register online.


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