Shropshire Star

'I can't sleep for worrying': Family's emotional plea for stem cell donor to save Telford man's life

A family has launched an emotional appeal to help find a stem cell donor for one of two twin brothers suffering with blood cancer.

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John O'Connor is in need of a lifesaving stem cell donor

John O'Connor, 53, from Telford, is suffering with a rare type of lymphoma.

Now, as his twin brother Philip has issued an emotional plea for people to sign up as stem cell donors, the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust (ACLT), DKMS UK, Race Against Blood Cancer and Anthony Nolan are teaming up to organise a special 'donor registration drive’.

Philip said: "He’s my twin brother, my best friend, my best mate. I can't sleep at night because I'm constantly worried about John."

John and Philip (left) together

He added: "For a long time, it has been me and him, it still is me and him and I want it to continue being me and him.”

In 2022 John was diagnosed with a rare type of lymphoma called Sezary syndrome.

As they felt time may be running out for him, John’s family, including Philip, who lives in Bromley, Kent, were the first to be tested as potential stem cell donors.

None were a match, so the harsh reality for John is that his only chance of survival is now a stem cell transplant from an unrelated donor.

John is of Jamaican heritage and a compatible donor for him is likely to be of African or Caribbean heritage.

Patients in the UK from ethnic minority backgrounds like John’s only have half the chance of finding a matching donor on the stem cell register compared to people from white European backgrounds – a 37 per cent chance compared to 72 per cent.

There is currently no match on the worldwide register for John, but four blood cancer charities hope that a donor can be found at the registration drive, which takes place in Birmingham this weekend.

The potentially lifesaving event takes place from 2pm to 6pm at the Legacy Centre of Excellence, 144 Potters Lane, Birmingham, B6 4UU.

John said: “100 per cent please register. There’s such a low population of people of African Caribbean heritage on the register list itself: we need to get more people on it. You could save a life, not just my life but anybody's life."

Sabrina Jarrett, national development manager for ACLT said: “Every day, we work tirelessly so patients like John find a matching donor.

"ACLT believes no one should die waiting for a match to become available, and we also advocate for our ethnicity to not be a factor in our survival.

"John, and blood cancer patients like him are relying on the generosity of the Black community to come out on February 24 and come together. It takes a village, and we can achieve great things as a collective.”

DKMS spokeswoman Sophia Oriolowo aadded: “Joining the stem cell register is a simple process involving a quick mouth swab. These swabs are only used for the purpose of testing to see if you are match – they are not shared with any third parties. And if you are found to be a match for someone, then in nine out of ten cases, donating your stem cells is a simple process similar to giving blood. You could be giving someone a second chance at life.”

The African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust has also issued a guide on what to expect on the day for people attending.

A spokesman said: "If you are in general good health and aged 16 to 55, a red carpet, VIP experience awaits you at the Legacy Centre of Excellence.

"You’ll be greeted by a ‘registration chaperone’ who will explain how stem cell donation works, and who will introduce you to specially trained volunteers who will help you join the register.

"Registering is quick and easy – you’ll be asked to complete a confidential form. Then, using three quick swabs, rub on the inside of your cheeks.

"It all takes less than ten minutes. Then you’ll be a superhero-in-waiting to match with a blood cancer patient in need!"