Friends from Exmouth appeal for bone marrow donors

PUBLISHED: 15:07 01 June 2016 | UPDATED: 11:19 03 June 2016

19-year-old bone marrow donor George Stafford

19-year-old bone marrow donor George Stafford

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Three childhood friends from Exmouth are encouraging people to become bone marrow donors.

George Stafford saw his best friends Harry Symons and Aidan Clarke both diagnosed with different rare blood cancers.

After both survived, George signed up to the Anthony Nolan charity register from which a donor had been found to save Aidan – and then got the call to say he was a match as a donor to save someone else.

Their story began when George and Harry met at school in Exmouth at the age of four, before meeting Aidan at the age of eight as all three played for Exmouth Rugby Club.

Even after George moved to the village of West Hill, they continued to meet up most evenings and weekends.

But their lives were then turned upside down when, in September 2011, 14-year-old Aidan discovered he had leukaemia, and then, just 11 months later, Harry, also 14 at the time, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, another form of blood cancer.

Harry responded successfully to chemotherapy treatment, but Aidan needed a bone marrow transplant, successfully sourced from a stranger through the Anthony Nolan register.

In gratitude, George signed up as soon as he was old enough, on his 16th birthday, and subsequently got the call earlier this year to say he was a match as a donor for a stranger.

George, now 19, said: “I saw first hand that a stranger saved my best friend’s life and I wanted to do it for someone else.

“It was mad to think that there was someone out there who doesn’t even know Aidan, but stepped in to help him out. I just had to sign up myself.

“It was the best feeling ever to know I was a match; I was actually going to be able to save someone’s life. As soon as I heard the news, I rang Aidan to tell him and he got quite emotional. Both Aidan and Harry were more shocked than I was! It meant they got to see it from both sides now.”

Aidan said: “I’m so proud of George. I can’t believe he got the chance to do this for someone else after it saved my life. All of us know how much it means. When you donate your stem cells or bone marrow, you save not just the person receiving it, but you save their friends and family, too. The impact this simple act has is massive.”

Harry said: “It’s only when you reflect back and hear the statistics on how likely it all was to happen for me and Aidan and now for George, you realise how incredible it all is.”

The trio is now encouraging others to sign up to the bone marrow register – at www.anthonynolan.org - and aim to dispel myths around donating.

“Nearly every person I told I was donating my bone marrow asked, ‘isn’t that the most painful operation you can have?’.

“For me, there was no pain at all - I was back in the pub with my mates a couple of days later.”

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