Life-saving bone marrow donor speaks to recipient

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Nearly five years after making a gruelling bone marrow donation, a former Campbeltown woman is ‘ecstatic’ after receiving a telephone call from the man whose life she saved.

Karen Thomson Hickson, 45, described speaking on the phone to Duane MacIsaac, 46, from Canada, as ‘one of the best feelings ever’.

In a bizarre twist, the same day Karen first made contact with Duane’s family, she realised she had bought a book about his journey months earlier, written by his mother.

Anne MacIsaac penned The Day My World Stood Still about her son’s battle with leukaemia and his need for a bone marrow transplant.

Karen bought the book as it involved a situation similar to hers but she had no idea it was actually her recipient’s story.

Her journey to becoming a bone marrow donor started at Campbeltown Fire Station in September 2011 when the Anthony Nolan charity, which works in the areas of leukaemia and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, was carrying out a donor campaign.

Karen, a leisure receptionist in a health club, said: ‘I signed up and did a spit test but I never heard anything from them.

‘In December 2013, I read about the family of a little girl from Glasgow, doing a plea because she needed a bone marrow transplant. She just melted my heart.

‘It said at the bottom of the page about donating and to contact DKMS, so I proceeded to do so.’

Karen moved to Blackpool in June 2014, having lived all her life before that in Campbeltown, where her parents and one of her two sons still live.

Shortly after the move, she found out that she was a match with someone, and made her anonymous donation in July.

Karen explained that the process of donating her bone marrow was exhausting, with flu-like symptoms caused by seven days of injections to cultivate her cells in the lead-up to the marrow being harvested.

‘I can’t lie, the process was awful,’ she said. ‘I became really lethargic with sickness, cramps, stabbing pains and sweats.

‘I was in so much pain that I nearly pulled out but then realised I had come too far and someone out there needed my help so I went through with it.’

The process of giving the bone marrow took about five and a half hours but later the same day, Karen was told she hadn’t produced enough and would have to make a further donation.

Two years after the transplant, she was given Duane’s contact details but gave up hope of ever knowing if her donation had helped, as her emails went unanswered.

‘I had to respect him and that he might not want to talk to me,’ Karen said. ‘People react differently in these situations.’

But in January this year, Mrs MacIsaac left a voicemail on Karen’s phone in which she said the family had been trying to get in touch.

Karen has since spoken several times on the telephone to Duane, who told her he could ‘never put into words how to say thank you’.

‘Hearing his voice, knowing he is alive, is amazing,’ she said. ‘I often wondered how he was.’

Despite her ordeal, Karen is encouraging others to sign up to bone marrow registers such as DKMS, adding: ‘Hearing now that the recipient is alive makes me feel extremely proud to say I have saved a life.’