Mark Ritson’s journey to the upcoming Virgin London Marathon might be one of the most remarkable and poignant in the event’s history: the 49-year-old, diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia in 2008, has received two bone marrow transplants from a cell donor – his ‘genetic twin’– in Germany, and on the successful road to recovery, Mark is now competing in London to raise funds for Anthony Nolan.
In 2010, Mark was informed that a stem cell transplant was his only hope of a cure. Having been on the Anthony Nolan register for over two years in search of a donor, his prospects looked slim until a match came through with 19-year-old woman Jacqueline, who amazingly had only signed up to the register a few weeks earlier. The procedure went ahead in 2013, with Jacqueline donating her bone marrow in Germany to be flown to the UK.
Following the transplant Mark spent two months in isolation and was finally able to leave hospital a week before the birth of his eldest daughter, Iona. Yet the family’s happiness at their new arrival was soon interrupted as Mark’s blood count began to drop, making it apparent that the transplant had failed.
The only solution was to re-approach Jacqueline for another donation, an avenue Mark was hesitant about: "I was nervous that she would be feeling ill after the transplant and wouldn’t want to do it again. What I didn’t know was that she had been ringing the transplant centre in Germany asking how it went, and when she heard the transplant had failed she offered to donate again, before they even asked."
The second transplant left Mark feeling weak after serious complications, and he spent 200 days in hospital during his first year post-transplant. Around 18 months later, Mark gradually regained his strength. Anonymity rules mean that transplant donors and recipients can’t reveal their identities to each other for two years yet Mark was curious to know about the stranger who had twice saved his life.
After exchanging emails, the pair met for the first time last month, with Jacqueline flying over from Germany to stay with Mark and his family. "We visited the hospital that treated me and met the transplant team, which was a special moment for all of us. And of course she got to meet my wife, our daughter and our five-month-old son and see what she had really given me – a chance to see my family grow up. When you need a transplant you can’t choose the person who might save you, but if I could I would have chosen Jacqueline. She is a lovely, kind and thoughtful person and I am sure we will keep in touch."
Now, Mark has set his sights on the Virgin London Marathon and has already raised £4,000 for Anthony Nolan. As it costs £60 to add each new person to the donor register, the money Mark raises will pay for 60 potential new donors. You can view his justgiving page here.