Kettering stem cell donor meets man whose life he saved

Tom Wiltshire, right, met Steve Goddard, left, for the first time at an event hosted by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan to mark World Marrow Donor Day
Tom Wiltshire, right, met Steve Goddard, left, for the first time at an event hosted by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan to mark World Marrow Donor Day

An engineer from Kettering has met the retired head teacher whose life he saved by donating stem cells to him when he was suffering from cancer.

Tom Wiltshire, 30, met Steve Goddard, 55, for the first time at an event hosted by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan to mark World Marrow Donor Day.

Tom Wiltshire, right, met Steve Goddard, left, for the first time at an event hosted by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan to mark World Marrow Donor Day

Tom Wiltshire, right, met Steve Goddard, left, for the first time at an event hosted by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan to mark World Marrow Donor Day

Tom joined the Anthony Nolan register during a donor recruitment event when he was working in Oxford.

Just six months later, he received a letter saying he was a potential match for a patient in desperate need of a transplant.

He said: “It was mind-blowing to get the letter.

“It was amazing to know I was a match for someone and I had to respond to a letter like that.

Within three or four months of being at my most ill, I just recovered. There must be something special in Tom’s cells!

Steve Goddard

“It was about nine months before I was actually asked to make the donation so I worried a lot about the patient and whether he was OK.

“I was just hoping I’d be able to help in time.”

Eventually, Tom donated stem cells at the London Clinic, in Marylebone, in August 2012.

He donated his stem cells through a simple outpatient procedure which is similar to giving blood.

He said: “It was quite poignant and very surreal.

“I just chatted to my brother while I gave the donation.

“In some ways it felt like an anti-climax because I knew how important it was but it felt so easy and simple.”

The recipient, Steve, who is married to Andrea and has two daughters, said: “I was nervous about meeting Tom; I just wanted to thank him and not to mess up the first moment.

“I feel like I’m one of the lucky ones that there was someone like Tom who had the humanity to join the register.

“Without him I wouldn’t be here now.”

Steve first became unwell in early 2011.

He experienced extreme fatigue and achy bones but was initially told it was just a muscle injury.

But he then developed kidney failure because his body was producing too much calcium and he was diagnosed with myeloma, which is a form of blood cancer arising from plasma cells.

Steve was told he may only have 12 months to live.

As a result, he retired from his job and started focusing on short-term plans.

He was put on a drug trial which was partially successful and reduced the myeloma. However, he also needed chemotherapy.

He was also given a stem cell transplant using his own cells but this was unsuccessful.

Then his consultant at Manchester Royal Infirmary offered him the chance of a transplant from an unrelated donor through Anthony Nolan, and the charity was able to find him a 10/10 match.

Steve said: “I knew the donor was a young man in his 20s but that was all.

“I felt very grateful to him and I have always thought that when I found out who he was, I would take him out for a slap-up meal and a few pints!”

He added: “I’d never met him but he saved my life.

“Without him I wouldn’t be here – I’ve had additional time with my wife and children, and I hope and pray for even longer.

“I’m even starting to make long-term plans again, like planning a trip to South America.”

Steve had his transplant in August 2012 but it didn’t work initially.

He had to have three ‘top ups’ and it took six months before it worked.

He said: “After six months, something miraculous happened.

“My body just started fighting. Within three or four months of being at my most ill, I just recovered.

“There must be something special in Tom’s cells!”

Following the transplant, Steve sent an anonymous letter to his donor through Anthony Nolan to thank him for saving his life.

And, in May this year, he was finally able to learn the identity of his donor.

Tom said: “After the donation I kept wondering how my recipient was doing and so it was brilliant when I got a letter from Anthony Nolan to say that he was OK.”

Tom said he was then delighted to receive the anonymous card from Steve and was particularly surprised to see that Steve had chosen a card with a mountain biker on the front as Tom is a keen mountain biker.

Once Steve and Tom had been allowed to learn each others’ identities, they started to exchange emails and agreed to meet up.

Steve said: “What do you say to the person who saved your life?

“I just said thank you and he can never underestimate the gratitude I feel.

“I asked him what prompted him to join. Without that decision, I wouldn’t be here.

“I told him I was a dad, that I was in full remission, that I enjoyed dog walking, mountain biking and road cycling.

“He replied saying he’d been looking at screen for a long time wondering what to write.

“He said he was glad he was able to help and to hear I’m in remission.

“He praised the Anthony Nolan team and said he can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t join the register.

“He enjoys mountain biking and road cycling too and suggested one day we go for a ride together!”

They finally met at an Anthony Nolan event held at a central London to mark the first World Marrow Donor Day.

World Marrow Donor Day was organised by the World Marrow Donor Association to celebrate the fact there are now more than 25 million potential stem cell donors worldwide.

Steve, who was accompanied by his wife Andrea, said: “Until now, Tom was just a bag of liquid that I watched going into my body – now I can put a face, a person, and a story behind it.

“I’ve been able to express my gratitude as well – I’m just very thankful.

“He put himself out for a stranger and he had no idea who that person was and for that I am extremely grateful.

“The more people who join the register, the more chance people have of extra time and that is what you want when you have blood cancer.”

Tom added: “Donating was very simple and easy so it didn’t feel like a big thing but it feels more amazing now that I’ve met Steve.

“It doesn’t become real until you have met. It is extremely humbling.”

Steve now volunteers with Anthony Nolan’s Register & Be a Lifesaver programme which sees him go into schools to talk to students about the importance of registering as bone marrow, blood and organ donors.

For more information about Anthony Nolan, visit www.anthonynolan.org.