Pretty much everyday, when we turn on the television or radio, we’re told about how we can save lives by ‘donating only five pound a month’ or ‘sponsoring a child’. Every day we walk down the street, pass someone begging and hold onto our change, apologising on the way past. Every day we read the paper or watch the news, hearing about someone dying of cancer, wishing there was something we could do, but then put the paper down, take our tea out the oven and get on with our lives.
I wouldn’t for one minute say it’s because people are selfish or don’t want to help but more because there is a scepticism or doubt about how much they actually can help. ‘What? Little old me? What am I going to do to help cure cancer?’. It’s a fair question and to be honest, it’s one that I’ve asked myself numerous times and always come up with the same answer: ‘not a lot’. It’s something 24 year old Jon Jackson, a Pipe Fitter from Huyton also believed too, until 4 years ago, when through The Anthony Nolan Trust, he saved the life of a 19 year old girl he’s never met.
“You get up every day, go to work, earn your money, go out of a weekend and just get on with things. You don’t really think that one day you’d be responsible or capable of saving someone’s life.”
It’s an attitude most of us will have and although we hear about the amazing work charities and trusts do, we never quite get around to helping them out. Jon explained how that changed for him.
“It was about 4 years ago when I got involved. There was a campaign on Radio City about Anthony Nolan but to be honest, I hadn’t really taken much notice to it, not until I heard about a little 8 year old girl who lived by mine. She was really sick and couldn’t find a matching a donor. That’s when everyone kind of got involved, with it being a lot closer to home, you start to take a bit more notice. She was one of our own and she was dying, so I went and played my part. All I had to do was give blood, it was the least I could do.”
As it happened Jon wasn’t a match for the girl, however he’d done his part and was now on the register for Anthony Nolan and there he would remain for any other potential matches in the future. Jon’s life continued as normal, he went to work, went out with friends, went on holiday and followed his beloved Liverpool FC. Anthony Nolan and all that it does was forgotten about, until 6 months later when he received a very important call.
“One day, completely out of the blue, I got a call from Anthony Nolan telling me that I was a match for a 19 year old girl and asked if I would still consider being a donor. It was a bit strange to be honest, I’d forgot all about it. Obviously I said yes and before I knew it I was being sent to London the next week.”
The Anthony Nolan Trust paid for Jon and his girlfriend Sinnead to travel to London for the day in order to attend a medical, ensuring that his health was sufficient enough to ensure he was a perfect match for the recipient.
“We went straight to the hospital. I remember that was the moment it started to become a bit more real. We had to walk through the wards and you’d see all the patients, who were really ill. It was a really humbling moment that.”
“We were only there for about 2 hours. It was just a normal medical. Do you drink? Smoke? Are you active? Really easy and quick, before we knew it, we were on our way back home.”
The next day Jon received a call to inform him that he was in fact a match and that the procedure was to go ahead. Anthony Nolan sent Jon an itinerary of what was to happen, and he and Sinnead were to be put up in a London hotel for 2 nights, less than a week later.
In the five days leading up to traveling to London, a district nurse was sent to Jon’s house to give him an injection, to prepare him for the procedure. The injection was to release the white blood cells in the body, ensuring there would be enough for the stem cell transplant. Jon recalls the effect it had on him.
“I remember getting those needles and feeling a bit like I had the flu. I was a bit achey and had a bit of a sore back but it didn’t stop me from doing anything really, it was just a bit of discomfort but nothing that I’ve never experienced before.”
So, the Tuesday morning arrived and Jon and Sinnead packed their bags and headed to London to save the life of a 19 year old girl.
“It was a bit strange really. I knew what I was going for, I knew the impact it was going to have but it didn’t sink in at all. Because it all has to remain anonymous, I didn’t know anything about the girl apart from that she was 19. I didn’t know her name.”
Jon then went on to explain how this almost helped. “We were told nothing about recipients, given no information or anything to make you feel guilty at all. It took all the pressure away which was a massive change to what you see on TV.”
When the pair arrived they went straight to the hospital for one more injection and then were sent back to the hotel.
“We were really looked after, they gave us three meals a day, it was great! We were able to enjoy the sights a little bit and just relax and enjoy our time there.”
The next morning was to be not only one of the most important moments of Jon’s life, but probably the most important of his recipients.
“We woke up and had breakfast as normal and then headed to the hospital. We were met by some nurses who explained what was going to happen. They were really good actually, they made me feel comfortable and completely at home. I sat in what was like a big dentist’s chair, really comfortable, and was given a DVD player.”
“I had one needle in the inside elbow on my left arm and another on the right arm. There was a machine that connected the two. It took the blood out of one arm, took it into the machine which extracted the stem cells and then put blood back in the other arm. It sounds a bit mad and scary but it wasn’t at all. I felt nothing. No pain or anything.
I was there for 6 hours. I watched a DVD, listened to my iPod for a bit then just slept through most of it.”
And so, in his sleep, Jon had become a hero by saving the life of a 19 year old girl who now has her whole life ahead of her.
“It still didn’t really feel like a big deal, because I didn’t meet anyone or know anything about them, it didn’t feel like saving someone’s life, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I think when you get sick, you assume there will be someone there to help you. You don’t really question where the blood comes from, you just know it does.”
“I would hope it be would something someone would do for me, so I wanted to do it for someone else.”
Anthony Nolan gave updates to Jon about the recipient of his stem cells, keeping him aware of her health and her condition and about 6 months ago, Jon received a letter from her.
“That was the moment it hit me. Suddenly this girl, who was always an imaginary figure to me was real. When I read it, with her talking about what had happened to her and what she had been through, it made me realise just what I had done.”
Jon revealed that not long ago, his mum bumped into the mother of the young girl, who had inspired Jon to register with Anthony Nolan. Sadly, the 8 year old wasn’t as lucky as Jon’s recipient and passed away.
“My mum saw her mum not long ago and explained that I was a match for someone else and was able to donate. Her mum took comfort in that and said that she was glad that through her little girl, somebody else’s life was saved.”
“I’d urge anyone and everyone to get involved. For what it is, a little discomfort for a week, to save someone’s life, it’s something that everyone should be signed up to. It’s so easy, there’s no excuse really.”
Anthony Nolan are hosting two open days in conjunction with Liverpool and Everton Football Club. They will be at Anfield TODAY Monday 25th March (3pm – 7pm) and at Goodison Park on Monday 8th April (3pm – 7pm). All you have to do is pop down and spit in a tube. No needles. No messing. Just saving lives.
The Anthony Nolan Trust