Village comes together to boost stem cell donor numbers after friend's cancer diagnosis

Report by Jennie Henry

A village in East Cleveland has come together to boost stem cell donor numbers after being inspired by a local man's cancer diagnosis.

Father-of-two Kevin McPike, 36, from Brotton has acute myeloid leukaemia, which has left him needing a stem cell transplant.

Thankfully, tests have just shown that his brother Michael is a compatible stem cell donor, but Kevin's friends and family wanted to help other people find their stem cell matches too.

Blood cancer charity DKMS joined them at Brotton Village Hall on Saturday 6 April for a special stem cell donor registration event.

Kevin's friend Nicola Fletcher-Borrell helped organise the mass swabbing. She said: "We contacted DKMS to organise today as a charity to work alongside and fortunately Kevin has found his match with his older brother Michael, which is amazing, but there's still lots of other people on the transplant list.

"I think lots of people didn't really know much about leukaemia and what the stem cell transplant process is, so it's been good to get the education out there and help people understand it and then make that decision if they want to become a donor themselves."

Kevin is currently undergoing treatment at James Cook University Hospital, Middlesbrough. Credit: Family photo

Registering as a stem cell donor is a process involving a simple mouth swab and is possible for anyone aged 17-55 and in general good health.

As well as signing up potential donors, the event raised money for DKMS with breakfast buns donated by local butchers, snacks and refreshments in exchange for a small donation, and a tombola and raffle.

Nick Dart, a friend of Kevin's, signed up to the register today. He said: "I've known Kev for a while, and I thought I'd come down. He's got his match, so I'll see if I can help anyone else. It seemed the reasonable thing to do."

Local resident Adele Shepherd also joined the register today. She added: "I really feel strongly about sense of community from other people, or else what's the point? We need to come together when people are in need. Anything that I can do to help then obviously, I'd like to do that."

Rothiir Magus came to the event after getting a leaflet through the door. After signing up her said: "When it said it was as easy as just a cheek swab can help save someone's life, I just thought, well, it's no time or energy out of my day. So if something as simple as that can help someone else, then why not?"

Blood cancer charity DKMS worked with Kevin's friends and family to organise the event. Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Blood cancers are the third most common cause of cancer death in the UK, killing almost 13,000 people in the country every year.

At any one time there are around 2,000 people in the UK in need of a stem cell transplant.

Louise Clague, Donor Recruitment Manager at DKMS, said: "Kevin and his friends all know that we've only got 7% of the UK population on the register, so at the minute four out of 10 people don't find their match, so what they're doing today is absolutely brilliant because they're trying to help other people.

"They understand what it's like, not knowing until they found Kevin's brother was a match. It's all uncertainty and we can all do something about it. It's a little cheek swab. It takes 3 minutes. You're going to sit on a register, you could be a lifesaver for somebody."

Anyone wanting to register can do so on the DKMS website.

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