Boy with rare blood disorder meets bone marrow donor who saved his life
Allan McPike, from Glasgow, was inspired to sign the Anthony Nolan register by his cousin Elaine Davidson, who died of a brain tumour in 2009.
An 11-year-old boy with a rare blood disorder has met the stem cell donor who saved his life when he was six.
Allan McPike, 41, from Glasgow, was persuaded to sign the Anthony Nolan stem cell register by his late cousin, but did not hear anything more for 10 years.
His donation has since transformed the life of Ryan Brand, from Caerphilly in Wales, who was diagnosed with diamond-blackfan anaemia (DBA) when he was eight months old.
The rare genetic blood disorder stops the body from producing red cells. It can lead to delayed growth and put people at a higher risk of developing certain diseases, such as cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Ryan’s mother Sam Brand, 34, told the PA news agency that hearing the diagnosis was “absolutely horrific”.
“I’d been taking him back and forth to the doctors for ages, as he had a cough and cold.
“We had his christening and everyone commented on how pale and poorly he looked. I thought, I’m a first-time mum and I should listen to the doctors advice.”
Ryan required monthly blood transfusions, which Mrs Brand said was “really intense”.
“It was emotional for him and emotional for us,” she added. “They told us if he didn’t have a transplant he would die.”
Ryan eventually received bone marrow from Mr McPike in June 2017, and Mrs Brand said going in for the procedure was “a bit scary”.
Ryan, who turns 12 in March, will have DBA for the rest of his life but no longer requires monthly blood transfusions as a result of the transplant.
He also has learning difficulties and is unable to read or write, but Mrs Brand said: “Otherwise, he’s fab. He loves Minecraft and Roblox and he’s got this Lego figure he plays with all the time. He loves going on holiday.”
The Anthony Nolan register’s terms and conditions say there cannot be any contact made for two years after donating stem cells.
It said this is in place to protect patients and donors, but they can contact each other anonymously through the charity.
Mrs Brand said she was “really excited but at the same time really nervous” about getting in touch with Mr McPike after the two years were up.
“I really wanted to say thank you,” she added. “He saved my son’s life, you can’t really ask much more. He’s got a family of his own and something so small that he’s done has made such a big impact.
“If it hadn’t been for him, Ryan wouldn’t be here today.”
The families met up in Edinburgh in November. Mr McPike said: “It was great. It was good to finally see him and meet the family as well. They’ve been through an awful lot.
“When you see the pictures of Ryan when he was really unwell to what he is now it’s a massive, massive difference.”
Mrs Brand added that Ryan and Mr McPike got on “like a house on fire”.
Mr McPike told the PA news agency he was “cajoled” into signing the register by his cousin Elaine Davidson, who had a brain tumour.
“My cousin was very ill,” he said. “I think it was in Glasgow, there was a young boy needing a bone marrow transplant and Anthony Nolan were doing a big drive to get people to sign up.
“At the time, me being scared of needles, I was cajoled into signing up by my cousin. I thought ‘well, I can’t say no given everything that she’s going through’. I went along and donated on the day.”
Signing up to the Anthony Nolan register requires a simple mouth swab and it was not until a decade later that Allan was contacted to be told he was a match for Ryan.
Elaine died aged 18 in 2009, and Mr McPike said: “I think she would be very proud of being able to help someone. We would have given the world for someone to be able to help her, which unfortunately wasn’t the case.”
Mr McPike said registering with Anthony Nolan is “a worthwhile thing to do when you see the results that signing up can achieve”.
He added: “I always say to Sam that Ryan did the hard work, I did the easy part. There’s nothing really to fear about it. It’s not an overly invasive procedure.”
Henny Braund, chief executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “It’s wonderful to hear that Ryan is living life to the full and was able to meet his donor Allan.
“Shirley Nolan was so determined to save her son’s life that nearly 50 years ago she set up the world’s first stem cell register, bringing hope to patients in need.
“Every match offers people like Ryan a second chance of life, transforming the simple act of joining the register into an extraordinary lifesaving gift. But there is a stark truth, for every life saved with a stem cell transplant, another is lost.
“Joining our register so we can help more patients survive and thrive couldn’t be simpler, it only takes a few short minutes to complete our online form.”