Blood cancer charity in Chiswick hits one million registered donors across UK

Image above: DKMS workers at a donation drive; Credit DKMS

Chiswick-based charity celebrates ‘significant milestone’

DKMS, a blood cancer charity based in Chiswick, is celebrating a ‘significant milestone’ as one million donors have registered in the UK, including Chiswick residents, stepping up to save lives. The charity, which facilitates stem cell transplants globally, reports that since its launch in the UK a decade ago, stem cell donations have reached 42 countries, offering hope to those battling blood disorders.

Among the one million registered donors is Ashley Walker, a 35-year-old from Connah’s Quay near Chester:

“When I got an email about being a potential match, donating was a no-brainer. If it were my kids, I’d want someone to help.”

Despite their achievement, there is a pressing need for more donors. Every 20 minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with blood cancer, and the rates of eligible donors signed up with DKMS remain low across the UK.

In England, only 2.8% of the eligible population are registered. In Scotland it’s 2.4%, in Wales 4.2% are registered and in Northern Ireland it’s 5.7%.

DKMS is hoping to expand on their million milestone by adding more people to the donation register. They also want to fight misconceptions around stem cell donation and reach out into underrepresented communities.

Image above: James Moore – the first person to donate life-saving stem cells via DKMS in Sheffield; Credit DKMS

One of ‘biggest challenges’ is dispelling myths

DKMS told The Chiswick Calendar that dispelling myths about donating stem cells is one of the biggest challenges they face in getting more people to register. Many people who are unaware of the donation procedure believe it is intrusive, overly painful or damaging to their long-term health.

In truth, with peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection, which is used in 90% of donations, no surgery is necessary and donors can usually leave the clinic on the same day.

Bone marrow donation, which is used in 10% of donations, takes place under a general anaesthetic using a puncture needle in the iliac crest of the pelvis. The donor’s stay in hospital can last up to three days in total.

A stem cell donation is comparable to a blood donation, and does not lead to a permanent loss of stem cells. The body reproduces the blood stem cells within about two weeks. Four weeks after donation, a donor’s blood levels are checked to make sure the relevant blood values have returned to normal.

To minimise the strain on donors as much as possible, DKMS limit the number of times a donor can donate to twice for either PBSC collections or bone marrow collections.

Images above: Purity standing in front of a Kenyan flag, Purity with her stem cell donations; Credit DKMS

Reaching out to underrepresented communities

DKMS also face the challenge of making the donation register more representative of people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Purity Kiarii, 49, who lives in Hertfordshire, is a busy mother of two teenage daughters and a ten-year-old son. She works as a session sister for the NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) and recently became a stem cell donor herself.

“I got registered back in 2013, after watching a news report on TV about the work of KKLT, the Kevin Kararwa Leukaemia Trust”, explained Purity.

“They were appealing for more potential stem cell donors from black and minority ethnic backgrounds to come forward. Kevin Kararwa had been diagnosed with leukaemia in 2012, but sadly died before a donor who was a suitable match could be found for him.”

“Look at me, I am 100% fine: really soon after I’d donated my stem cells the levels in my body were completely back to normal. Just go for it – get registered as a donor! You never know what might be around the corner and whether it might be someone you know who urgently needs a transplant, and all it costs is your time.”

Purity added:

“Because of my Kenyan heritage, I know there can be reluctance within African communities to register as potential donors. There can be lots of myths about donating being dangerous, a mistrust of the medical profession or even in some communities there are fears that witchcraft is involved.”

The NHS Blood and Transplant unit also have difficulty persuading enough Black and Minority Ethnic group families to agree to organ donation once a love one has died.

READ ALSO: Chiswick doctor Kok-Tee becomes poster girl for organ donation

They say it is commonly seen that patients and/or families of ethnic minorities refuse transplantation or donation due to misunderstandings and uncertainty regarding the unknown.

Image above: Potential donators speak with a volunteer; Credit DKMS

Register as a stem cell donor today

Blood cancers rank third in the UK for cancer-related deaths, with over 13,000 fatalities annually. Over 2,000 people in the UK require stem cell transplants yearly, but sadly, only a fraction find a match within their families.

For many, their only hope lies in finding an altruistic stranger registered as a stem cell donor with DKMS. Stem cell donations from donors based in the UK have gone to 42 countries across the globe. The furthest one has gone is over 18,000 kilometres, to New Zealand.

DKMS, founded in Germany in 1991, has expanded globally, with offices in the UK, working tirelessly to combat blood cancer. Their mission extends beyond donor recruitment, involving research aimed at improving patient survival rates.

For those interested in becoming a stem cell donor and potentially saving a life, visit dkms.org.uk register for more information.