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Stranger saves a mother’s life by donating stem cells

SIMONA DUBAS, a mother from Newport, was diagnosed with cancer at 27 years old.

Now fully recovered, following a successful stem cell transplant, Simona is urging more young people across Wales to join the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry this World Blood Cancer Day (28 May). 

When her son Frank was just four years old, Simona discovered she had a blood cancer known as acute myeloid leukaemia. After three unsuccessful rounds of intensive chemotherapy, Simona underwent a lifesaving stem cell transplant in 2018 after finding a perfectly matched female donor from Germany. 

After being diagnosed, Simona said, “I think I didn’t comprehend the seriousness of the situation at first. I was more worried about the practical side of me being in hospital. For example, who is going to look after my son when my husband is at work?” 

While Simona went on to make a full recovery, around 30% of blood cancer patients will not find the potentially lifesaving bone marrow match they need.  

Today, Simona and the Welsh Blood Service are urging more 17 to 30-year-olds to join the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry.  

Simona commented, “Becoming a stem cell donor is very important because the chances of a family member being a match for a patient are quite low.” 

“When I found out there was a donor matched to me, I was unbelievably grateful, and I think overwhelmed by the selfless gesture. It is something you cannot describe in words. 

“For many people with blood cancer and other blood disorders, a transplant is their only chance to recover from their illness. If you’re thinking of registering, think about how proud you’d be if you saved someone’s life.” 

Across the world, over 50,000 patients a year hope to find a suitable bone marrow match from an unrelated donor. 

There are two ways volunteers can sign up to the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry, by requesting a swab kit through the Welsh Blood Service or by providing an extra blood sample when giving blood.  

Dr Keith Wilson, a Consultant Haematologist at the University Hospital of Wales, said: 

“For many patients with blood cancer, a stem cell transplant represents their best chance of making a full recovery; however, only 25 percent of patients will find a donor within their family. The vast majority rely on unrelated volunteers to have any prospect of recovering from their illness.

Blood cancers stop bone marrow from working correctly, and for these patients, the best hope of recovery is to receive a stem cell transplant. A stem cell transplant replaces damaged cells with healthy ones and is often the last treatment option for blood cancer patients following radiotherapy and chemotherapy. 

Dr Wilson continued, “We need more volunteers to join the Registry because new tissue types are discovered year on year. Those needing a transplant rely on a donor with a compatible tissue type, so the bigger the donor pool, the better the chance of matches being found for these patients.” 

Dr Tracey Rees, Chief Scientific Officer at the Welsh Blood Service, said: “World Blood Cancer Day is an excellent opportunity to focus on thanking those who have signed up as potential donors and those who have gone on to donate their stem cells.  

“This selfless act brings hope to so many patients and their loved ones, but there is still much to do for us to extend this chance to everyone in need of an unrelated donor.  

“Despite millions of donors being registered across the world, some patients still won’t find the match they need. It is so important young people continue to join the Registry.” 

If you are aged between 17 and 30, visit welshblood.org.uk to start your journey in the fight against blood cancer.