A young islander, who was cured of a life-threatening condition with a stem cell donation six years ago, has launched a push for local footballers to register as donors and help "save someone's life."
The call from St. Clement FC player Ben Hick (24) comes as the charity that supported him through his life-changing treatment, Jersey Friends of Anthony Nolan, celebrates its 25th birthday today.
Footballers fit the charity's age and fitness profile for ideal donors, and are therefore at the centre of a new campaign launched this anniversary year, which Ben says he's happy to be supporting.
He was diagnosed with chronic granulomatous disorder, a rare genetic condition that severely weakens the immune system, when he was one.
Ben told Express that he felt “pretty well” until the age of 15 but that he then suffered three fungal pneumonias in close succession. Each spell led him to spend eight months in the hospital to receive treatment. “It felt like I had been thrown under the bus,” Ben said. “By the third time, we thought we needed to do something.”
Pictured: Ben first heard of the the Jersey Friends of Anthony Nolan, when he was told he would need a stem cell transplant.
Despite being a risky procedure, a stem cell donation was explored. Ben’s family became aware of the Anthony Nolan charity, which uses its register to find and match potential stem cell donors of the correct tissue types with blood cancer and blood disorder patients who are in need of stem cell transplants.
They helped Ben find a suitable donor and the transplant took place in London in June 2013.
Although Ben says the actual transplant was “anti-climactic” – “I was just on a drip as my new immune system was getting fed down,” he explained – it has had an extraordinary impact on his life.
Pictured: Ben on his transplant day.
After spending four months in London after the transplant - including two and a half in complete isolation - Ben was able to come home and return “to normal." He completed his degree at Jersey International Business School and started playing football again at St. Clement's Football Club.
Explaining the impact of the transplant, Ben says he has only been sick once, recently, when he had a chest infection. “I’ve had colds, but this was the first time I actually had to go to the doctor to get meds,” he explained.
Although he doesn’t know much about his donor, except that she is a woman from Germany, Ben hopes one day he will get to thank her for saving his life. In the meantime, he's showing his gratitude to his donor and the charity by spreading awareness of Anthony Nolan and encouraging islanders to sign up to the register. “It’s an opportunity to save someone’s life,” he said. “The effect my donor had on me, it’s just amazing.”
Pictured: The Jersey Friends of Antony Nolan have partnered with the Jersey Football Combination (JFC) to encourage local footballers to join the register.
He's playing a big role in supporting the charity’s latest initiative, which has involved partnering with the Jersey Football Combination (JFC) to encourage local footballers to join the register. Anyone aged between 16 and 30 and in general good health can sign up, which Ben says fits perfectly with the range of people who play football on the island.
His own club, St. Clement FC, was one of the first to get involved in the drive.
“I think about eight or nine people have gone on to sign up. I know for a fact that one has actually become a donor because I have seen his card. He’s actually one of my best mates!”
Video: A video explaining how to register as a stem cell donor.
Charlie Browne, JFC President, said the club was delighted to help. “Our own Ben Hick is living proof of the need for a pool of potential stem cell donors. The importance of this work cannot be underestimated; it literally saves lives and changes the lives of the recipients and their families.
"Our JFC membership are the ideal target age and profile and we hope the support we can give the Jersey Friends through football player registrations will make a real difference as well as encourage other sports to become involved.”
Based on the success of the first event, the charity is hoping to roll it out to all other football clubs in the island, and other sport clubs. Kate Baigent, who is in charge of Donor Recruitment, said: “It’s wonderful to see Ben be healthy and fit and do all the things he should be doing.
“Donating stem cell is a simple process. It’s like giving blood… It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to save someone’s life.”
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