Canadian grandfather flies to UK to meet stem cell donor who helped save life

A Canadian man has flown thousands of miles to the UK to meet the stem cell donor who helped save his life.

Tom Marshall, 30, from Sheffield, signed the Anthony Nolan stem cell register at 18.

He described recipient Rod Neander, who is from western Canada and in his early 60s, as “more like family” than a friend following the visit last month.

Speaking about his decision to join the stem cell register, Mr Marshall told the PA news agency: “I’ve always sort of given blood and I think I read in one of the pamphlets about joining the stem cell register.

“I saw it as an opportunity to help people, if I could do it then I thought ‘why not?’.”

Grandfather-of-three Mr Neander was diagnosed with a type of blood cancer known as diffuse large B-cell lymphoma in 2018.

After finding out he was a match for someone, Mr Marshall donated stem cells at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in April 2020, during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said he felt “a bit of excitement and a bit of apprehension” on getting the call, but felt it was his “opportunity to do something good for someone else”.

When donating, Mr Marshall said he did not know if he would ever meet the person who received his stem cells.

The Anthony Nolan register’s terms and conditions say there cannot be any contact made for two years after donating stem cells to protect patients and donors.

Once this period was up, Mr Marshall and Mr Neander started communicating via email and video calls, with the latter making the trip from Canada to Sheffield in April.

Mr Marshall said: “I was more excited than apprehensive about meeting Rod.

“Meeting him in person made me feel that donating stem cells is the best thing that I’ve ever done.

“Becoming a dad has made me realise that time is so precious and donating stem cells to give Rod more time is the best gift that I have ever given.

“The blood we share hasn’t just made us friends but more like family.”

Mr Neander added: “The chance to say thank you to Tom, my stem cell donor, is overwhelming.

“The stem cell transplant allowed me to get back to the things I love.”

Mr Marshall described donating stem cells as an “honour” and said he “wouldn’t have to pause for a heartbeat” to do it again.

Henny Braund, chief executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “Our donors like Tom are incredible; they allow Anthony Nolan to save lives through stem cells.

“If you are aged 16-30, please visit our website to join the stem cell register to become a lifesaver like Tom. Anthony Nolan needs more young men to step forward, as they are more likely to be chosen to donate.

“Currently men aged under 30 make up more than half of those asked to donate their stem cells but make up only 16% of the register.

“If you can’t join the Anthony Nolan register, please support our work by making a financial donation. Your money will help give someone like Rod the best chance of survival.”