Plea for stem cell donors after Catherine’s diagnosis

A LOCAL mum is encouraging people aged between 16-30 to register with Anthony Nolan after her daughter was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia two weeks ago.

Samantha Melrose spoke to the Buchanie about her 16-year-old daughter Catherine’s diagnosis.

She said: “Her condition is very serious and more unusual in someone so young. 75 per cent of cases are found in the over 60s. Catherine’s condition may have been found by chance. She had been complaining of headaches but was otherwise well.”

Her blood was taken on Christmas Eve to rule out anaemia and following two further blood tests the leukaemia was suspected.

This was confirmed with a bone marrow aspiration done when she was admitted to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. Doctors are still uncertain if the headaches were linked or were just a coincidence.

When asked how Catherine is doing Samantha said: “She has been extremely brave and has handled everything very maturely.”

Catherine has just completed her first ten days of chemotherapy. She will have around three weeks to allow her blood levels to recover and will then have a second ten day course. She will then go on to have a stem cell transplant.

Her younger sister Lizzie, 14, has been tested to see if she will be a match although the family still have to wait another two weeks to find out the result. The chances of her being a match is one in four but if she isn’t, an anonymous donor will be sought via Anthony Nolan.

Samantha added: “If Lizzie is a match it would mean the whole process could happen in Aberdeen but if she isn’t, Catherine would have to go to Glasgow for at least a month to receive stem cells anonymously if a donor can be found. According to the Anthony Nolan Trust, there are currently almost 1600 people in the UK waiting for a stem cell transplant and 37,000 worldwide. Currently they successfully find a donor for around half of the people needing a stem cell transplant. Imagine if you could be a match for one of them.”

Samantha explained what registering involves: “Anthony Nolan no longer normally need actual bone marrow or take blood initially. They simply use saliva in a spit kit that you receive in the post when you sign up. You spit in a vial, fill in the form, post it back and they do the rest. If you are matched with anyone whilst on the register you will be contacted by Anthony Nolan. They will come to your work/home/school etc. and administer a drug to stimulate your stem cells over a three day period. They will then fly you to London where stem cells will be gathered from a blood donation. By doing that you could well be saving someone’s life.”

The age group required for registration is 16-30 years and Samantha added: “This could happen to anyone. Catherine had no risk factors and no other health problems. Registering and the spit kit are so easy to do and of you are called, taking a day out of your life to donate stem cells could help save someone’s life. In some countries registration is mandatory as part of national service - most donors apparently come from Israel for this reason.

“Catherine was still at school and because of the diagnosis and treatment she will miss her Highers. This was what upset her most when she was diagnosed - her prelims were the very next week. She wasn’t noticeably ill and I had to take her out of school to be admitted to hospital. Some of her friends have registered in the hope they could be a match for someone, many of my friends and work colleagues have registered too.

“Someone I know registered 18 years ago and has never been matched but I heard of someone who was called two weeks after they signed up. A few years after a donation, the donor and recipient can arrange to meet up if both parties wish - how wonderful would that be?”

In order to be considered “cured” patients must be free of the leukaemia for five years and on successful completion of treatment, will continue to be monitored very closely.

Samantha is working with Anthony Nolan to organise a recruitment day locally. This is something she did many years ago with her partner in Clever Tots Nursery when two children in their care were diagnosed with leukaemia.

Samantha said: “Please go online now and register at www.anthonynolan.org. Each registration costs Anthony Nolan £100 to process - if you are too old to register but would still like to help, could you perhaps raise some money for this fabulous charity? Many of Catherine’s friends are already planning events.

“Catherine will also need lots of blood and platelets along the way, please go along the next time blood donors are here in Peterhead or if you prefer you can pop into the unit at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to donate - it is open from Monday 
to Friday.”