When leukaemia patient Liz Wilkinson needed a life-saving bone marrow transplant, her son and his girlfriend wanted to help.
Elliott and Emily got tested but, unfortunately, neither was a suitable match.
Liz did receive a transplant from an anonymous donor but later died.
So Emily and Elliott decided to donate their bone marrow to save the lives of two strangers, as a tribute to Elliott’s mother.
Emily, 24, of Liverpool, said: “Some good has come out of losing Liz. Neither of us were able to save her but in her memory we have saved the lives of two strangers.”
Emily met up with her recipient – Kary – this summer, when Kary flew over from the US to meet her. Emily said: “It was amazing to meet her. The transplant has given her the chance to see her family grow up. If Liz hadn’t gone through what she went through we wouldn’t have been able to save Kary.”
After Liz was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2018 her chances of survival were set at 20 per cent without a bone marrow transplant. Emily said: “It was such a shock. Her diagnosis came out of the blue. It was rare for her to be diagnosed as it is more common in children.”
Both Emily and Elliott signed up to the Anthony Nolan register but, sadly, were not a match.
Liz had a transplant in May that year but developed a condition called “graft versus host disease”, where the body attacks the transplanted cells, and it led to sepsis.
After losing Liz, the couple remained on the donor register and Emily got a call in June 2021 saying she was a match for a stranger and would she consider donating.
She said: “I wasn’t expecting it, so the call was a surprise. I was a bit apprehensive about the procedure but I agreed. I was told the donor was a lady in her 50s, from America.”
The procedure took seven hours to extract the marrow. It was then transplanted into Kary in a hospital in the US.
Emily said: “We weren’t allowed to know any more about who she was at that point. But I was told that the procedure had been a success, which was the best news ever.”
The following year Elliott received a call from Anthony Nolan, saying he was also a match for someone. He agreed to donate and joined Emily in saving the life of a stranger.
Emily said: “We were both so pleased to be able to help people like this. We saw what Liz went through and so we know how heartbreaking it is for families, watching their loved ones needing a transplant.”
The donation must remain anonymous for two years following a transplant.
Then, if recipients and donors want more information about each other they can get in touch initially through the hospital.
Emily received a letter from Kary, thanking her for the life-saving gift, telling her about her family and what it meant to them.
Emily said: “It was lovely to hear from Kary. I wrote back and then we were given each other’s details and I knew who she was.
“She told me she’d had a form of leukaemia too, just like Liz. It was her second transplant – she’d already had one which had failed – so it was her last chance.
“She has three children and it has allowed her to see them grow up.
“When she said that she was coming over to London and would like to meet me, I was nervous about meeting her.
“But when we met I felt comfortable with her straight away. I’m hoping we will meet again when she comes over to the UK next time. We keep in touch and it’s lovely to hear how she is doing.”
Henny Braund MBE, chief executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “It’s fantastic to hear donors like Emily and Elliott raising awareness. Our data shows that younger people are most likely to be asked to donate, so the more 16 to 30-year-olds who join the Anthony Nolan register, the more patients the charity can help find their match.”
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