Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland student spent days in London donating stem cells to save stranger’s life

By Michelle Weir

A young Northern Ireland student has given a stranger a second chance at life after selflessly donating her stem cells.

Grace McCullough, a medical student at Queen's University, was moved to act after seeing first-hand the devastating effect blood cancer can have on patients during her placements at hospitals.

The 22-year-old from Banbridge in Co Down, donated her cells at King's College London after being recruited by Belfast Marrow, a branch of the Anthony Nolan student volunteer network.

Grace said: "Two years ago, two representatives from Belfast Marrow gave a talk after one of our lectures about Anthony Nolan and joining the stem cell register.

"When they told us about it, I knew I had to sign up.

"Throughout various placements within hospitals, I had seen first-hand the devastating effect that blood cancer can have on people - the difficulties that can occur in finding a match for a stem cell transplant and the life-changing effect that a transplant can have for these individuals.

"However, I was unaware of the opportunity to sign up to the register until we were given a talk about the Anthony Nolan register."

During the past two years, Belfast Marrow has recruited 1,507 people to the charity's stem cell register and more than 675 people have signed up since July.

Grace explained: "The whole donation process was very straight-forward, and Anthony Nolan was very accommodating of everything. My stem cells were collected over two days, during which I got to sit in a comfy chair and watch a lot of TV.

"My ambition in life is to help people through the practice of medicine some day, so to be given the opportunity to help someone now, and in such a simple way, was an amazing feeling. I would urge anyone who hasn't heard of stem cell donation to take time to read up about it and to seriously consider joining the register.

"The procedure is really nothing to be worried about, and it can literally save someone's life." Young people are the most likely to be chosen to donate cells because they are less likely to have long-term health problems which might delay or prevent donation. Typically, around one in 1,200 people on the Anthony Nolan register go on to donate.

Charlotte Cunliffe from Anthony Nolan said: "There is something remarkable happening at Queen's University Belfast, with selfless students playing a key role in curing blood cancer and blood disorders.

"Every student who signs up at university has an above average chance to give someone an invaluable second chance of life.

"And the statistics show that they are responsible for almost a quarter of the potentially life-saving transplants that Anthony Nolan facilitates in the UK, which is simply incredible."

Marrow groups operate in more than 50 UK universities, and have recruited more than 100,000 people to the Anthony Nolan register since 1997.

The charity also revealed that a quarter of people who have donated stem cells to blood cancer patients in the UK in the last two years joined the stem cell register at university.

To join the register, or for information about supporting the work of Anthony Nolan, visit www. anthonynolan.org

Belfast Telegraph

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