Elliot1 was 17 years old and lived in an average apartment next to a park with a lot of apple trees, old varieties. She had two brothers, parents, a dog, friends and attended the 10th grade. In a few days the family wanted to get ready for summer vacation, 2 weeks in Varna, she began to remember how the sun was shining when she was writing the packlist on her untidy desk, everything was covered in law books. One day she wanted to become a lawyer, tomorrow she had a tennis match, but today was the day when her world began to move, to fall apart, her future plans shattered, her gaze dull.
She felt so small in the seat in front of her doctor. Cancer, they said. There was something wrong with her blood, they said. The walls began to move in the small room with the sad-looking pot plants on the desk and windowsill, while she tried to keep the color in her face. Her mom tried to hold her hand which was desperately clinging to the armrests, she lost the feeling in her hands. Leukemia… she swallowed.
And she’s not the only one, every 16 minutes a human grows ill with blood cancer, also known as leukemia.
I knew it, she thought. „It’s gonna be alright“ she heard her mom saying some days ago, but she also noticed the confidence in her voice which started to turn more and more into a gaze full of worries, from day to day. She knew there was something wrong from the first time she noticed these bruises on legs and knees and they were neither from tennis nor from tree-climbing. Then the weight loss without cutting down her impressive chocolate consumption, and her aching bones which kept her away from training in the last days, but she felt too tired and weak anyway.
„Mhmm“ The doctor uncomfortably whispered in her stream of thoughts and brought her straight back to the present moment. Her hands started to lose from the armrests, opening for mom’s hand. „We are made of more than a trillion tiny little things called cells. A million cells can be the size of one grain of sand, so.. yea we have a lot of them. There are different types of cells, skin cells, the cells of our hair and so on – and blood cells. They are created in our bone marrow, there is like a tiny little factory for the types of cells in our blood: red blood cells which transport oxygen and nutrients; white blood cells which fight against diseases; and platelets which stop the bleeding when you get a cut. With leukemia your body produces a lot of abnormal white blood cells and doesn’t know how to stop, they take all the space from the healthy cells: The functional cells are becoming less and less while the number of abnormal white cells increases. To fight this we will start chemotherapy, we will send some „soldiers“ in your blood to fight the bad cells, but they are pretty strong and rough so they might destroy some of the healthy cells too, this might cause hair loss. But there is hope, the body never forgets how to produce the good cells, once we get rid of the bad ones.“
Snow fell from the gray cloudy sky when Elliot returned to this ugly place. The pot plants seemed to be slowly suffocated by the dry indoor climate drawing flickering lines in the air over the heaters under the windowsill. She nervously took off her jacket, but left her hat at its place, covering her bold head. She sat down, noticing that she only needed half the space the seat offered her. So much has changed in the last month… She leaned back but couldn’t stop moving her feet, nervously kicking repeatedly against the leg of the doctor’s desk, shivering, waiting for him to tell her something.
“They found your genetic twin, Elliot,” he said. The stem cells can help your body to build new healthy blood cells as they start to multiply in your blood system. It’s a bit tricky and there are some risks that your body doesn’t adapt to the donated stem cells, but I’ve experienced many cases where this therapy worked true miracles, the turning point in the fight against leukemia“
It can be life-saving for people fighting against leukemia to find a matching person to adapt their stem cells. With comparatively little effort every healthy living person between 172 and 60 can register themselves for being a potential donor. The probability of being someone’s match who is not related to you is only 1.5%, but ff they find a match, you have the power to enable someone a 2nd life. Donations from younger donors are more likely to be successfully adapted. We should also keep in mind that ourselves, a friend or a member of our family might be dependant on such a donation one day. If more and more people register themselves, it becomes easier to find a genetic twin for someone like they found for Elliot.
After a period of anonymity after the donation which varies from 12 to 24 months, they can get the contacts of each other, if both agree.
In many cases donor and receiver develop a special connection, because there truly is a special genetic connection. So finding a genetic twin might be an interesting experience for both sides.
1Elliot is a fictional character, inspired by experiences of real people
2Able to register with 17, able to donate with 18
How can I register?
The first step is to register yourself for being a potential donor. You can order a registration kit, then you take a swab of your oral mucosa and send it to the lab. They get an image of your DNA and register you in the system, you can be considered as a donor for people from all over the world now.
If you are chosen as a donor you will receive a call. They will inform you, ask you for your consent and answer all your questions about the donation. If you are willing to donate there will follow some health check ups including blood and urine test to confirm your ability to donate. All costs incurred by the donation will be covered.
One way to donate stem cells starts with receiving 2 injections (for self-injection) every day for a maximum of 5 days to increase the stem cells in the bone marrow to let them enter the bloodstream. This may cause pain in your bones a short time after the injections but like this you can donate them just out of your veins and become a true life-saver. On the day of the last injection you are ready for your donation, so things are getting serious. The device used in the collection center removes only the stem cells out of your blood, it takes 3-4 hours. In the meantime you can read, listen to music or just chill with your smartphone, what a comfy way to save one’s life!
For the 2nd way to donate stem cells you won’t need to prepare yourself with the injections. Instead of that, you will go through a small surgery where the doctor removes the cells directly from the bone marrow. The used device is a syringe, so no worries, no scalpel. All costs including anesthesia will be covered, so you won’t notice anything from that, sleeping peacefully for 45 or maximum 90 minutes. After the donation you will feel tired and have some pain in the back where the bone marrow was removed, you will stay in hospital for one day.
Francine Bateau never felt such a fulfillment before she got the chance to save someone’s life. For her it was like finding a deeper purpose of being alive herself. After 18 months, Francine was able to contact the person she donated her stem cells for. She smiled brightly when she got the first call: Her name was Elliot, 19 years old, law student.
Written by: Anne Schifkowski