AN OXFORD care worker has become the first person to donate potentially lifesaving stem cells to a stranger in need at a new centre in the city.

Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan has set up a stem collection centre at the NHS Blood and Transplant Clinic in the grounds of the John Radcliffe Hospital as part of its response to the coronavirus.

Ffion Roberts, 36, works in care and nursing homes and initially joined the stem cell register when she was just 17.

She said: "I decided to join the register when I started donating blood, I just thought why not.

"My nan was then diagnosed with leukaemia at the age of 102 and even though a transplant was never an option for her due to her age, for my 30th birthday I decided to encourage 30 of my friends to join the Anthony Nolan register.

"Funnily enough, none of them have been called up to donate – but I have."

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Urgent transplants have still been taking place during the current coronavirus pandemic though many were delayed due to the outbreak.

Anthony Nolan has continued to match individuals willing to donate their stem cells to patients with blood cancer or blood disorders who are counting on them to survive.

After Ms Roberts joined the stem cell register her tissue type was confirmed.

It meant every time the charity was informed of someone needing a transplant, they compared the patient’s tissue type to hers, as well as the more than 800,000 others on the register, plus registers across the world.

Ms Roberts was found to be a match for a stranger in desperate need of a stem cell transplant and donated her stem cells two weeks ago.

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She said: “I found out the first week of April, while in lockdown at home, that I was a potential match for someone with blood cancer.

“I then had to give a blood sample so it could be confirmed whether I was the best match or not.”

Six weeks later she found out she was the best match for the patient, saying: “I was really pleased. I was also a little bit nervous but always knew that it was a great thing to do.”

Stem cell donors are usually allowed to bring a friend or family member along with them to their donation, but because of restrictions in place due to coronavirus, they must now go to their appointment on their own.

The vast majority (90 per cent) of donors donate through peripheral blood stem cell collection.

This is a simple, outpatient procedure similar to giving blood and was the method used in Ms Roberts’ case.

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She said: “The donation took about four and a half hours. I’d taken my iPad as I thought I was going to watch a boxset, but the staff were so lovely I spent a lot of time chatting to them.

“After the donation I felt really proud. You feel connected to someone you don’t know anything about.

“I know that patients and donors must remain anonymous for two years after the transplant, but I would love to meet them one day, if that would be possible. I hope to be able to send them an anonymous card to say that I hope they are doing well.”

Anthony Nolan recruits people aged 16-30 to the stem cell register as research has shown younger people are more likely to be chosen to donate.

It costs £40 to recruit each potential donor to the register, so Anthony Nolan relies on financial support.

Due to an increase in costs, the charity needs to raise extra funds for every month that the coronavirus pandemic continues.

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Henny Braund, chief executive of Anthony Nolan, said: "Ffion has done an extraordinary and incredibly selfless thing by giving someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder their best chance at survival.

"Transplants continue to happen around the world meaning we still need people to join the UK stem cell register.

"Every person who joins the Antony Nolan register, like Ffion has the potential to help save someone in desperate need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant."

She added: "We particularly need young men aged 16-30 to join the Anthony Nolan register as they are the most likely to be chosen to donate. "It’s so easy to sign up; fill in an application form online and we’ll send you a swab pack in the post for you to complete and send back."

Grace Guo, the nurse who looked after Ms Roberts during her donation, said: "I feel it has been such a great privilege for me to look after our first ever stem cell donor.

"I have been always touched by their warm offering and great generosity making such efforts to help others."