How it all started 

It was Christmas 2006, I was 15 years old and couldn't understand why I constantly felt out of breath and needed to sit down all the time. I’d just played a full term of rugby but noticed I really didn't have my usual stamina and strength towards the end of the season. I kept getting blood rushes to my head, felt dizzy and often developed lots of little bruises.

Over Christmas I had flu-like symptoms and spent a lot of time sleeping, my skin turned yellow and after a short GP visit I was immediately transferred to Watford General Hospital where doctors found my blood count of red cells, platelets and white cells were all dangerously low. After several transfusions I was transferred to University College Hospital (UCLH) in London for a bone marrow biopsy. By this time, it was New Year’s Eve and I remember a great highlight was being able to watch the fireworks all across London from the twelfth floor of the Teanage Cancer Trust ward.

The results of the biopsy showed I had Very Severe Aplastic Anaemia.

After six weeks of regular platelet and red blood transfusions there were no signs of my immune system turning itself around. I suffered serious infections in my lungs, liver and one arm, my low platelet count meant the tiny blood vessels in my eyes hemorrhaged and could not heal so they turned completely red. A stem cell transplant was my best option of a cure for this blood disease. Having only one sister, Stephanie, aged 17 at the time, my chances for a perfect match were limited, but I was very lucky in that she turned out to be an identical match.

The treatment 

The treatment started with a high-dose of chemotherapy and a special serum to eradicate my bone marrow. The chemotherapy made me sick, I felt lethargic, weak and lost my hair. However, I felt lucky to be staying on the Teenage Cancer Ward, because of their fantastic facilities and I felt at ease to be sharing this time with people of my own age. The donation from my sister was surprisingly straight forward and harmless. She had to have injections to stimulate the production of stem cells and she was able to donate 1.6 million stem cells in the first sitting. This unfortunately fell short of the 3 million needed. But after a big meal, a further injection and a lot of gossiping with my step sister, Amy, those stem cells were ready to leave and she was able to donate a further 4.2 million the following day, making a total of 5.8 million. After a nail-biting wait, with my health deteriorating due to infections, it was a relief to start producing my own blood cells, a miracle of medicine and a second chance for me, a phenomenal and magical result. A period of my life I will never forget. My counts were rising exponentially, and my health began to improve. After four tough months in hospital, I finally went home. 

The next chapter begins

Then came my next steps in life: GCSEs, A Levels, University and travelling the world. I’m now a qualified Civil Engineer, which gives me the opportunity to construct major infrastructure projects like highways, railways, schools and hospitals. Partly why I chose this career is because I had come to learn how fleeting life can be and I wanted to give something back to society whilst also leaving a positive mark on the planet. Now, eleven years on, I attend a Late Effects clinic at UCLH every eighteen months.

I hope this will continue to compile good evidence and research data for Aplastic Anaemia and for patient information in the future. All the doctors and nurses at both Watford General and UCLH hospitals were amazing and we had a lot of support from the Teenage Cancer Trust and the Aplastic Anaemia Trust (AAT). What is remarkable is that red cells and platelets are always available for which I am so grateful, I wish I could personally thank all the donors who gave their time and their blood.

To show my support for the charity, I completed the AAT Triathlon, participated in the Windsor Walk and have held various plant sales to raise funds for the AAT. A close friend even ran the London Marathon for the AAT, my mates and I were so impressed. One weird fact to pass on from my experience is the strange phenomenon which occurs when you undergo a stem cell or bone marrow transplant. Your blood group will change to that of your donor. I am now, like my sister, B+.

I encourage you to Be Positive as well!

If you'd like to download James's story - click here.