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How to become a stem cell donor – Sonja Jütte’s story

08 May 2024

Stem cells are known as the building blocks of the human body and stem cell donation is a lifesaving gift to people living with serious blood disorders and blood cancers. Each year The London Clinic Stem Cell Unit collects stem cells from about 1000 healthy donors, making The London Clinic the largest single-site accredited stem cell collection centre in Europe.

Sonja Jutte - stem cell donor
Sonja Jütte

The expert team in the Stem Cell Unit works closely with blood registries such as the Anthony Nolan charity, DKMS and British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR) to collect valuable stem cells from donors genetically matched with patients with serious blood disorders and blood cancers. Discover more about our Stem Cell Unit.

One such inspiring donor is Sonja Jütte, who donated stem cells in 2023, when she was found to be a successful match for a recipient, after being on the Anthony Nolan register for around 20 years.  

What would you like to tell other people about your stem cell donor story?

"I have spoken to  many people about being a stem cell donor and the response I often get is “I don’t do needles” or “I don’t like blood”. Speaking as someone who once fainted donating blood, I want to tell others, if I can do this, you can too.

Just pretend the shoe is on the other foot for a moment. If you had a diagnosis where you needed stem cells to have a second chance of living, what would you hope for?

I know I would hope for a big, diverse stem cell donor pool, which really increases the odds of being matched with a donor. I think that’s something we can all contribute to.

My stem cells were picked up by an Anthony Nolan volunteer courier at the London Clinic near Baker Street and  - probably - travelled on the Jubilee and Elizabeth lines before leaving the UK. I say “probably” because stem cell donations are anonymous. My patient is an adult overseas. Volunteer couriers and transport networks make it possible for stem cells to get from donor to patient within 72 hours. As I work for Transport for London – this is also a fantastic opportunity to celebrate TfL."

How did you find out about stem cell donation?

"It was quite a while ago. My uncle worked with someone who needed a stem cell transplant. This prompted conversations within my family and my cousin and I signed up with donation registers.

I was, and am, fascinated by the fact that humans can grow spare parts (stem cells) that can save the life of another genetically similar human. It is beautifully human, wonderfully scientific and I am totally fascinated what is medically possible.

The register I’m with, Anthony Nolan, are doing really awesome work to raise awareness of stem cell donation, especially with young people and at universities through freshers’ weeks, which is brilliant. Getting the word out is a challenge.

How did the process start?

Anthony Nolan got in touch with me 2023, to say I could be a match for someone, and they asked me for blood samples. These blood sample confirmed I was a match and then things started to happen very quickly."

What is involved in the donor’s preparation prior to donation?

"I had a full medical at the London Clinic, the most thorough one of my life. It was good to go into the hospital, since I got a chance to ask lots of questions, and also see the donation ward.

Five days before donation I had a COVID test, and a pregnancy test - both of which had to be negative to go ahead with being a stem cell transplant donor.

Four days before donation I began to have G-CSF injections every 24 hours, to boost white cells and release stem cells into the bloodstream.

You can choose to administer your own injections, but I chose to come into The London Clinic to have this done. Around these injections I only had some minor discomfort so I was able to carry on with normal life, including going work and normal activities like cycling and socialising."

What was your experience like at The London Clinic?

"The London Clinic stem cell harvesting team were amazing – they explained everything to me and they were reassuring, calm, professional, and just really lovely.

After my donation, my recovery went well. I was back at work the next day telling anyone at Transport for London who'd listen my story."

If you’re interested in joining the stem cell register, The London Clinic works closely with several blood registries. These include Anthony Nolan, DKMS and the British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR).

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