Man searches for stem cell donor after identical twin brother not a suitable match

  • Mark Gough went to meet John and Phillip O'Connor

A cancer patient from Telford who needs a stem cell transplant is appealing for a donor - after even his identical twin brother was told he's not a suitable match.

John O'Connor has cancer and has to have hours of regular treatment. He needs a stem cell transplant, where unhealthy stem cells are removed from the patient's body and replaced with healthy stems from a donor.

John says he can't receive the cells from his identical twin brother Phillip because they are too similar and his body would think that it's receiving the same unhealthy cells as his.

"My body will reject the cells and say 'hang on you've just put in what you took out' so being identical it's quite bad really", says John.

Phillip says he 'cried' when he found out that he wouldn't be able to donate the stem cells his brother needed.

"It was such an emotional thing", says Phillip. "Being a twin brother, being my best friend, my best mate. I wanted to help him and I couldn't.

"I can't sleep at night because I'm constantly worried about John", he adds.

John has to have hours of treatment. Credit: John O'Connor

The brothers have Jamaican heritage and John needs to find a donor with African Caribbean background.

Those from a white European background have roughly a 70% chance of finding a stem cell match but those from a minority ethnic background, like John, have around a 37% chance.

John is now working with the charity DKMS to try to get more people of African or Caribbean heritage like him to become donors.

"In total registration rates are really low", says Deborah Hyde from the organisation.

"We think it's because there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings around what it involves to be registered as a stem cell donor. In 9 out of 10 cases it's a really simple process, it's really similar to giving blood."

"100% register," says John. "It's such a low population of African Caribbean on the register list itself, we need to get more people on it.

"Not just that but everyone else register as well - because you could save a life, not just my life but anybody's life."

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