Six-year-old boy's stem cell campaign 'potentially saves 14 lives'

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Joel Picker-Spence
Image caption,
Joel Picker-Spence died shortly before his seventh birthday in 2008

Fourteen people have been given potentially life-saving stem cell donations thanks to a campaign launched to help a young boy with leukaemia.

A match was found for Joel Picker-Spence, but it was too late and he died shortly before his seventh birthday in 2008.

His mother continued the Join for Joel campaign even after her son's death.

Since then, 14 people have contacted her saying they have donated stem cells after hearing about Joel's story.

These people were among the hundreds and possibly thousands who have joined stem cell donor registers after hearing about the campaign.

Most people who join the registers will not go on to donate their stem cells, as the odds of being a match for someone within five years of signing up is only 1 in 900.

Image caption,
Donors need to be aged 16-30 to join the Anthony Nolan register

Joel's mother Ann-Marie Spence, from Farndon in Nottinghamshire, said she never imagined she would still be campaigning so many years after her son's death.

"Through this alone we've potentially saved 14 people's lives, which those 14 people wouldn't have got if we hadn't carried on doing Join for Joel," she said.

"We've made a difference to so many people's lives."

Is stem cell donation painful?

  • Nine in ten people now donate stem cells directly from their bloodstream, in a procedure known as peripheral blood stem cell donation
  • Donors receive a series of four hormone injections to make their stem cells multiply into the bloodstream, so these can be extracted in a way that is similar to donating blood
  • One in 10 donors have their stem cells collected via the bone marrow itself, which takes place under general anaesthetic to stop the pain
  • Bone marrow donors may feel tired and bruised after, and may need to take a short break from work to recover
  • People need to be aged 16-30 and in good health to join the Anthony Nolan register
  • People aged 17-40, and who already donate blood, can join the British Bone Marrow Registry, run by the NHS
  • People aged 17-55 can join a register run by DKMS UK

The Anthony Nolan register said more than 200 potential donors had joined its register after signing up at Join for Joel events, and more had joined online.

The organisation only accepts people aged 16-30, but Joel's mother said people had also signed up to alternative registers as a result of the campaign.

Helen Billam, from Anthony Nolan, said: "Joel's family and friends should be really proud of everyone they have inspired to take this potentially life-saving action."

Young boy saved

Donors who have already saved lives include data analyst Alan Fisher, who joined the register after hearing about Joel's story on BBC Radio Nottingham.

"It's not going to cause any lasting damage to me and somebody else gets an opportunity to carry on living, so it's a pretty small price to pay I think," he said in 2014.

He later discovered the recipient was a boy about the same age as Joel.

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