22 May 2014

Success for fiance’s online campaign to find stem cell donor

Given 60 days to find a donor for a life-saving stem cell transplant after her husband-to-be Mike Brandon was diagnosed with leukaemia, Kate Robertson’s viral online campaign succeeds within a month.

Mike Brandon and Kate Robertson

Mike Brandon proposed to Kate Robertson at the start of the year, three weeks before she set off on a six-month backpacking trip. Ms Robertson was in Burma when 29-year-old Mike was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in March. Hearing of the diagnosis she immediately flew back to be at his side.

Kate Robertson with the Brandon brothers

Doctors told them Mike needed a transplant within 60 days.

Having discovered that none of Mr Brandon’s three brothers were correct matches to make a stem cell donation, Ms Robertson, a physiotherapist, launched her campaign.

#Shake4Mike asked people aged 16-30 to join the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register in the hope of finding a match for Mike.

We know we have a rocky road ahead as a transplant is a serious procedure, but knowing there is a good match for Mike is a fantastic boost that we desperately needed Kate Robertson

Kate and Mike shake their faces

They were also encouraged to tweet out a photo of themselves shaking their face to show they had joined the register, and to nominate a friend to do the same. Her plea was retweeted thousands of times, and less than a month later, a match has been found.

Ms Robertson described the success of her campaign as “astounding”, saying “A matching donor means that we can go ahead with Mike’s bone marrow transplant. We know we have a rocky road ahead as a transplant is a serious procedure, but knowing there is a good match for Mike is a fantastic boost that we desperately needed.

“We are hugely grateful to the selfless person who has stepped forward to help Mike, and to everyone who has pledged to do the same for someone else, by joining the Anthony Nolan register.”

The transplant is scheduled to take place in June, but the name of the donor has to remain confidential due to anonymity regulations.

Donor surge

Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development at Anthony Nolan, said: “We are absolutely delighted that a matching donor has been found for Mike… It’s our goal to find a match for everyone who needs a transplant so it’s wonderful that Mike’s friends and family are carrying on the fight against blood cancer and urging even more people to come forward and support the work of Anthony Nolan.”

As a result of the campaign more than 7,000 potential new donors have joined the register – a 650 per cent increase. There was a particular surge of interest in the couple’s home town of Bristol, with an increase of nearly 2,400 per cent in the number of visitors from Bristol logging on to the Anthony Nolan website.

Kate and friends of the couple have pledged to continue the campaign. As Kate explained: “The campaign was never just about finding a donor for Mike. Even at the outset we wanted to help make sure that there will be matching donors for other people going through the same agonising wait – other people’s brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, mums and dads, and lifelong partners.

“We have been very lucky in finding a match but I know that not everyone is as fortunate. We still hope everyone will keep shaking their faces at cancer and continue to spread the #Shake4mike campaign to help others in Mike’s situation.”

- The Anthony Nolan charity is especially keen to get young men aged 16-30 to sign up as they are most likely to be chosen to donate, but make up just 12 per cent of the register. 
- It is also urgently seeking Black, Asian and other Ethnic Minority donors as they are currently under-represented on the register.
- Around 1,800 people in the UK need a bone marrow (or stem cell) transplant each year. This is usually their last chance of survival.
- 63 per cent of UK patients will not find a matching donor from within their families
- 90 per cent of donations take place as a peripheral blood stem cell collection, which is similar to donating blood.