SPECIAL FEATURE: Anderson's story - ‘It was a privilege to change someone’s destiny’

Bone marrow donor backs campaign for more African-Caribbean lifesavers

Anderson Hall, 40, from Luton, signed up to the Anthony Nolan register at the V2V church in Wembley in 2007, pledging to donate his stem cells (or bone marrow) if he ever came up as a match for a stranger with blood cancer in desperate need of a transplant. Years later, he was called up to save a little boy’s life.

Anderson says, “A young African-Caribbean boy called Tomi Afolabi from the area was in desperate need a bone marrow match and there was a recruitment event at my local church in Wembley, held by the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust.”

“The ACLT were asking for more donors to sign up to the Anthony Nolan register and at the time me and my wife just thought it was the least we could do for this boy. Very sadly he passed away as a donor was never found.”

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A few years later, Anderson got a call he never expected – he was a match for someone else.

“As time went on I just forgot about it really but one day I came home and we saw a letter had come through the post from Anthony Nolan. We had initial nerves, maybe a little hesitant but mostly just very surprised. It was the fear of the unknown – we were just clueless as to what was involved.

“I spoke to a lady at Anthony Nolan and she was really reassuring, they walked me through the whole process and send me more information in the post. All the anxiety and nerves just went away after that. I fully understood what I was getting into and I understood the importance of it all.”

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Anderson was then called to the London Clinic in December 2013 where he donated bone marrow under general anaesthetic. Only 10% of donations are still done this way, with the other 90% of stem cell donations being collected through the bloodstream in a process that’s very similar to giving blood.

“It became very real and close to home when I thought about the other person who would be receiving the bone marrow. I’ve got kids and god forbid if it happened to my kids I would want someone to help them.”

“I had a little pain in the lower back and some stiffness and tiredness and had to rest up a bit. It wasn’t as bad I imagined at all. It was just an amazing experience and a privilege to have a chance to change someone’s destiny and give another family hope.”

Anderson later discovered that his bone marrow had been used to save the life of a young child overseas.

“I received a card from the child’s parents. It was really exciting, touching and emotional card. They were saying I was a blessing to them and it all became very real. As I have my own kids it was very powerful for me when I found out the child is at the beginning of their life. I gave a child the chance to continue their journey through life.”

Currently, because there aren’t enough African Caribbean people like Anderson on the Anthony Nolan register, it means that if you’re African Caribbean and in need of a bone marrow transplant, you have a less than a 20% chance of finding the best possible, lifesaving match.

Anderson is now supporting a campaign by Anthony Nolan and the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT) called ‘Being African-Caribbean’, which aims to increase the numbers of African-Caribbean donors on the bone marrow register.

“After I heard the stats around the lack of African-Caribbean donors I found it very concerning. There is a real lack of awareness, people just don’t know about it. Our culture is a very laid back and we believe ‘what will be, will be’ but we need to get up and make things happen.

“I hope everyone gets behind this campaign because we need to create opportunity for people to save lives, there is room for everyone to play their part”

Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development at Anthony Nolan says, “We need more people like Anderson to step forward as donors so that we can find matches for people in need of a transplant, especially people from African-Caribbean and other black and minority ethnic communities as they are underrepresented on the register.

“What many people don’t realise is just how simple it is to be a donor. Registering simply involves providing a saliva sample.”

Beverley De-Gale, Co-Founder at ACLT says: “Like so many other families, we faced an agonising wait to find a matching donor for our son Daniel; the odds were stacked against us, as we were told that there were only 550 black people on the Anthony Nolan register at that time, despite years of campaigning. At times we felt helpless, but we realised we could make a huge difference for Daniel and others like him if we addressed the lack of awareness head-on, so we set up the ACLT. The answer to this heart-breaking situation was in our own communities – and they truly did us, and Daniel, proud.”

“Now we need the next generation of young African-Caribbean people to follow this example and sign up to the Anthony Nolan register today. If you’re 16 to 30, you could give people facing blood cancer future and end the inequality that black people face when searching for a donor.”

To join the register you must be between 16 and 30, and you will remain on the register until you are 60. For more information about the ‘Being African-Caribbean’ campaign and to join the Anthony Nolan register go to www.anthonynolan.org/africancaribbean. For more information about ACLT, go to www.aclt.org.