A STEEL worker struck down with a deadly blood cancer has had his life saved by a bone marrow transplant from a donor hundreds of miles away in Germany.
Medics searched in this country for a match for Hartlepool man Rob Allen, but were unable to find one, so widened their search across Europe – and a match was discovered.
Stem cells were shipped across and Rob underwent a bone marrow transplant.
Things are looking good for the 34-year-old, from the Dyke House area, as recent tests show his body has not rejected the donor cells following his operation, in December.
But brave Rob, who set up a Facebook blog called “Watch me beat cancer”, says starkly: “Probably by now I would be dead or dying, so the donor saved me.”
Germany has the second-largest blood stem cell and bone marrow donor register, behind the US, with access to more than 10 million donors for patients worldwide.
Rob is urging others to join the UK donor register in the hope of increasing the chances of saving someone else’s life in this country.
He was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder that causes a drop in healthy blood cells, last April.
Rob had suffered with bad colds and went for a health check.
But medics found his white cell count was slightly low and he was sent to James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, for test results.
Although the results weren’t too worrying, he was monitored by the hospital’s haematology department.
But over the course of about a year his white cells and platelet count dropped rapidly.
Doctors carried out a bone marrow biopsy and Rob received the results in April.
Rob said: “A letter came saying I should take someone with me for the results, so I thought it must be pretty bad.
“When I got there, they said ‘you’ve got Myelodysplastic syndrome’.
“At first I didn’t know what it meant, and then they said ‘blood cancer’.
“The word ‘cancer’ was the scariest bit.”
Rob was passed to specialists at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital and given three options – to leave his condition untreated, have chemotherapy or have a transplant.
Rob said there was a chance the chemotherapy would “fix” him temporarily, but it could eventually kill him.
He opted for a transplant, even though he was warned there was a 40 per cent chance he could die from it.
Medics registered Rob with blood cancer charity and bone marrow register the Anthony Nolan Trust and he was told he would be notified when there was a suitable match.
After three months, a German match was found which fit 11 out of 12 criteria.
But before he could have the transplant, he had a week’s worth of chemotherapy and was in James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, for about a month around the time of his 34th birthday, on September 23.
On November 30, Rob had more chemotherapy, with radiotherapy, this time at the Freeman, to break his own immune system down ready for accepting a “new” one built from the German donor cells.
But Rob, whose weight plummeted from 13st to 10st, said: “The doctors warned me they can never get 100 per cent of everything – the cells could start to reproduce.”
Then over three days in December, he underwent his transplant.
He was in hospital during Christmas and New Year, and had his spirits lifted when nurses laid on a new year buffet for patients.
Since his transplant he has had to have tests to monitor how his body is accepting the donor cells and so far they are showing positive signs.
Now Rob is slowly on the road to recovery, though he remains cautious about his future.
“I never feel completely out of the woods,” he said.
“I’m kind of living every day as it comes.”
He has to stay off work as a contractor in the steel industry as he is not allowed the vaccinations needed for the job for a year.
Rob urged others to sign the donor register.
He said: “The main worry is that some people might be a rare tissue type and if they are then obviously if not enough people are donating, there’s less chance of finding a match. “I definitely wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for finding a good match.
“A huge percentage of UK cancer sufferers are saved by German donors including me.”