Healthcare news

Belfast and Portstewart bone marrow campaign for Irish-Italian woman

Nicole Di Pietro-Fisher
Amanda Ferguson

The Belfast branch of the Anthony Nolan bone marrow charity is urging people to join its register in the hope of finding a match for a seriously ill Irish-Italian woman.

On Saturday from 11.30am to 4pm there will be a Belfast Marrow stall at Belfast Pride's Pride Village beside the Big Fish sculpture and then on Sunday volunteers will be on Portstewart Promenade from 10-6pm.

The public is encouraged to pop along to the bandstand from 10am and Morelli's To Go ice-cream parlour from 12pm on Sunday.

It is hoped a bone marrow match will be found for Nicole Di Pietro-Fisher who was diagnosed with leukaemia in January this year after first being diagnosed 14 years ago.

The 24-year-old who lives in England said she had cancer when she was 10 "but went into remission at 16".

"I was devastated when I found out the cancer was back again.

"I was just two years away from reaching the coveted ‘10 year remission’ milestone."

Over Christmas, Nicole started coughing up blood and suffering from aching muscles and lethargy.

Tests revealed the cancer was back and had spread to her brain and spinal cord.

"Doctors told me a stem cell transplant was my only chance of a cure," she said.

"But because of my mixed-race heritage, the chances of finding a match were slim. Doctors think I need to find a donor urgently. Without a stem cell transplant, I will die.

"If anyone is reading this thinking about joining the register, please do it now. You have the potential to save my life.

"And even if you’re not a match for me, there are thousands of people waiting for life-saving donors."

A spokeswoman for Belfast Marrow, a branch of the Anthony Nolan Trust based at Queen's University Belfast, said: "We'll be talking to people about the Anthony Nolan stem cell register and encouraging 16-30 year olds to sign up if they are interested.

"Joining the register involves filling in a straightforward application form and spitting in a tube to provide a saliva sample, which will then be sent to Anthony Nolan's specialist labs for tissue typing.

"Less than one per cent of people on the register will ever be called up and asked to donate - as there are thousands of different tissue types, it can be very difficult to find suitable matches for patients.

"The more people we can encourage to join the register, the more that percentage will rise, and the easier it will be for people like Nicole to find the donor that could save their life."

Fact file

About 2,000 people in the UK need a stem cell transplant from a stranger every year

90% of donors donate through PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell collection). This is a simple, outpatient procedure similar to giving blood

The Anthony Nolan registers need more young men to sign up, as they are most likely to be chosen to donate but make up just 15% of the register

They also need more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to sign up

Only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best match

This drops dramatically to around 20% (one in five of transplant recipients) if you're from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background

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