Rugby player helps tackle blood disease

A rugby player from Bridgend is calling on the Welsh rugby community to join him in kicking blood cancer into touch after he donated lifesaving bone marrow to a young boy from America.

Ioan Evans, 27 was one of the only suitable matches in the world capable of saving his patient, despite the pair living thousands of miles apart. For many patients, donations like Ioan’s are the only chance of survival, yet only 60 per cent of people will find a possible lifesaving match.

Ioan, who is originally from Cwmtwrch in the Swansea Valleys, is now urging others to follow in his footsteps as part of the Welsh Blood Service’s #ChilledOutLifesaver campaign, which aims to encourage 17-30 year olds to ask about joining the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry the next time they come to give blood.

He said: “Joining is really easy to do, and I’m so glad that I did. I’ve changed someone’s life because of it. Just find a blood donation clinic near you and let them know you want to join the bone marrow register. I’ve been on it since I could first join at 17 years old, years later I was finally matched with this little boy.

“After finding out I was a match, the Welsh Blood Service told me the bone marrow was for a little boy living in America. Finding that out was really heart-warming and it gave me the motivation throughout the process. I donated in December so I thought it would be one of the best Christmas presents this young child will ever receive. I just wanted to do anything I could to help him.

“There’s a misconception that giving bone marrow is really painful and that there are huge needles involved but it was pretty straight forward. After the operation, I actually woke up and asked if they’d done it yet because I couldn’t feel any pain.

“Everyone in my life has been really supportive throughout the process, my partner, my work, and my teammates. I play for Clwb Rygbi Cymry Caerdydd, a Welsh language rugby club in Cardiff, and I help to manage Ospreys Women’s rugby.

“I still think about the young boy, his family and everything they must’ve gone through. I would really like to meet them one day.”

Ioan made his donation through an operation, which takes the lifesaving bone marrow from a donor’s hip bone. Only 20 per cent of bone marrow donations are collected this way. Most donations are made though apheresis, a process which involves being connected to a machine that separates the cells that are needed from the blood, and returning the blood to the donor.

Emma Cook, Head of the Welsh Bone Marrow Registry, said: “Only 30 per cent in need of a donation can find a suitable match within their own family which is why we’re so thankful for people like Ioan who’ve selflessly given to someone in need.

“The chances of finding a lifesaving match are low, which is why it is so important to ensure as many people as possible living in Wales sign up to become chilled out lifesavers with the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

“The Welsh rugby playing community has been hugely supportive of the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor registry and a large number of our recent donors have been involved with the game, either playing or coaching. We’re so lucky to have such a community-spirited bunch of sportspeople supporting our cause.”

“For any 17-30 year old looking to do something amazing in 2018, visiting a Welsh Blood Service clinic and asking to join the register is a great way to start.”

To join the bone marrow register, simply book an appointment to give blood by visiting or calling the Welsh Blood Service on 0800 25 22 66.