Omagh mum given ‘second chance at life’ after blood cancer battle backs stem cell donation drive

webnexttech | Omagh mum given 'second chance at life' after blood cancer battle backs stem cell donation drive

A Co Tyrone woman, who survived leukaemia after a successful stem cell donation from her sister, is urging people in Northern Ireland to join the donor register. Omagh native, Lesley Calder was 54 years old when she was diagnosed with blood cancer four years ago. She spent five weeks in hospital, but her chemotherapy was unsuccessful, and the only solution was a stem cell transplant. Lesley was one of the 30% of people that found a match in their family, and her sister, Ann was able to donate her stem cells. READ MORE: Mum of two battling leukaemia holding out hope for stem cell donor READ MORE: NI teenager on heartbreak of losing ‘best friend’ dad to cancer She told Belfast Live: “I was one of the lucky ones to have had access to stem cell donation from my family, which many others don’t. “Since then I’ve wanted to be involved in letting people know that these stem cell registers exist and encouraging more people to join them so that when someone is in need, there’s a person potentially there to help them.” DKMS is an international charity dedicated to the fight against blood cancer and blood disorders. They recruit blood stem cell donors, provide second chances at life for those in need of a transplant, and raise funds to cover donor registration costs. Every 20 minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with blood cancer. For some of those patients, a stem cell transplant will be the only way that they can recover. Around 70% of patients will not find a stem cell match in their family, and rely on the kindness of strangers who are willing to join the register to save their lives. Lesley’s son, Max, was in his early 20s at the time of her diagnosis, and decided to join the stem cell register through DKMS after learning that, unlike his mum, most people don’t find a match in their own family. She added: “Two years later, Max was called upon to donate his stem cells to a stranger, giving them a second chance at life.” Mum-of three Louise Banks from north Belfast has twice donated stem cells to a young girl giving her a second chance at life. After she signed up to the registry through DKMS in 2019, the 40-year-old received a call to say that she was a match for a young girl called Sam who was living in Canada and desperately in need of a stem cell transplant. Louise donated her stem cells a week after her honeymoon and was eventually able to get in contact with her teenage recipient, Sam, and was delighted to learn that she had been accepted to study nursing at university last year. Louise said: “Two weeks before Sam was due to start her course, she was diagnosed again with acute myeloid leukaemia. I didn’t hesitate to donate stem cells once more, and on Christmas Day 2023, Sam learned that her second stem cell transplant had been successful. “If it was my child waiting for a transplant I’d be shouting and screaming and hollering for someone to help and to find a match.” DKMS are the ‘chosen charity’ of Belfast City Council’s Deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Áine Groogan. The charity is close to her heart, as she lost an uncle to blood cancer, and also has a cousin who received a successful stem cell transplant, and who is now cancer free. Currently only 3% of the population is currently signed up to the stem cell donor register, and four out of 10 UK patients looking for an unrelated donor are unable to find a match. Anyone aged between 17 and 55 years old and in general good health can join the register, all it requires is a simple cheek swab. Cllr Groogan said: “It’s a cause that’s really personal and very close to my heart as I unfortunately lost an uncle to leukaemia when I was younger. “I’ve had close family and friends who have gone through blood cancer as well and are being treated at the moment. “It really brought home to me the real need to encourage people to get on the register. It’s a very common cancer so we really want to get the message out about how important it is get on the register – it’s really simple through a cheek swab – and you could be a lifesaver and give someone a second chance at life.” DKMS held a donor drive in Belfast City Hall on Friday ahead of a larger public donor drive event at 2 Royal Avenue on Saturday, March 16th from 10am-3pm to give people the opportunity to get on the register. Denamona Primary School in Fintona is also organising its own drive on Saturday, March 23rd from 8am-4pm to support one of its teachers, Tracy McKenna, who’s been battling acute myeloid leukaemia for almost a year. The mum-of-two is hoping a stem cell donor can help her beat blood cancer. Tracy, 35, was diagnosed a month after severe tiredness, bleeding, bruises and headaches developed following a cold she couldn’t fight off. At the events, members of the public will be invited to sign up to the stem cell donor register, by completing a simple cheek swab. In future, they may be called on to save someone’s life. Find out more about joining the register and how you could potentially save a life here. Video by Belfast Live videographer Harry Bateman. For all the latest news, visit the Belfast Live homepage here and sign up to our daily newsletter here.

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