What can I do to help?

Categories Personal

It’s our instinctive response when you see someone suffering. To hold out a hand, and offer: “What can I do to help?” It’s a gesture of solidarity – even if all you can do is put the kettle on and make a cup of tea. I’m not talking about pity. And it’s not just compassion. Because both of these things are often overwhelmed by a much more powerful desire to DO SOMETHING to make things better in some way.

Kindness is a powerful emotion

I’m sure you can relate to this (I believe within most people there’s an innate and irrepressible sense of kindness when faced with another person’s suffering or misfortune). And it’s not only the experiences of family members and friends that can ignite this gut-wrenching urge to help. It can be for people you don’t really know. For example, an acquaintance you share a passing smile with on the school run but don’t necessarily have any real connection other than the same well-trodden morning routine.

That’s how I know about Finn the Fabulous

I’m in this situation at the moment. Finley, a little boy at my daughter’s school is battling a life-threatening condition known as familial HLH (familial hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis). I don’t know Finn or his family personally, but like the rest of our community, I’ve felt the impact of his story. (Take a look at the ‘Finn the Fabulous‘ facebook page to find out more).

You probably haven’t heard of HLH. I hadn’t. It’s incredibly rare. And it’s even less common to be in the brain as it is for Finn. He desperately needs a stem cell transplant so he can start chemotherapy treatment and this will give him the very best chance of beating it. There is a happy ending. There is a potential cure. But it 100% relies on finding a stem cell match first.

And here lies the challenge

With only 0.4% of the worldwide population registered as a potential blood stem cell donor, finding a donor isn’t straightforward. It’s not easy to find a match. So adding more people to the Stem Cell Donor register is the very best chance of increasing the odds. We’re not talking hundreds, or even thousands of donors. It needs to be millions to make a real difference to success rates.

So going back to where I started: What can I do to help?

I’m not a family member or a friend. I don’t even have a child in the same year group. I’m not the right person to provide a hug and extend an invite for a cup of tea. And my medical expertise is limited to administering doses of Calpol and applying plasters to grazed knees. But there are two ways other ways I know can help:

We can all do this.

How to register as a stem cell donor

This is my experience.

I registered via DKMS, who accept donors in the 17-55 age bracket. I answered a few eligibility questions online, submitted my details and received a pack back in the post. You are asked to provide three swabs from the inside of your cheek (basically swirl three super-sized cotton buds around the inside of your mouth), which you then return for anaylsis. That’s it. It literally takes 10 minutes.

If you are in the 16-30 age group, there is an option to register with another charity – Anthony Nolan.

Basically, choose the best option for your age and circumstances.

Then what happens?

First, your tissue type is analysed. And then when this is done (it’s a complex process that can take a while, so don’t delay) your results are entered into the system. You’re then listed as a potential donor on the UK Stem Cell Registry and one day you may be lucky enough to help someone who needs lifesaving treatment.

What if I’m a match?

For most people (90% of donations), the procedure is similar to giving blood (but with the bonus that you get your blood back once the cells are extracted). Even as someone who is incredibly squeamish about needles and blood, I can see this is a very small sacrifice to make.

In a small number of very specific cases, a bone marrow collection could be required. This is slightly more involved, but there are no risks associated with donating in this way.

If you register it’s essential you’re committed, so make sure you are happy to donate. Giving a family false hope would be devastating.

Spread the word

I had no idea about being a stem cell donor until a few weeks ago. Like many people, I only registered after becoming aware of it through someone affected in my local community.

A recent donor drive held at our local school, added 1,100 additional people to the Stem Cell Register. That’s amazing. But we need to expand this beyond our community, because Finn won’t necessarily find his match in the village of Hagley. Or even the next town. Or the UK.

Please register with DKMS or Anthony Nolan if you are able and eligible. It takes 10 minutes.

Laura Jane Johnson // Freelance copywriter

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