Donor gives hope

SIXTEEN years after Kiama paramedic Shane Wicks gave blood to try and save the life of a well-known Gerringong man, he has been called on to donate his bone marrow to another, critically ill patient.

Today Mr Wicks will have surgery at Westmead Hospital to harvest bone marrow in preparation for transplant to a patient who has been identified as a match.

In 1997, Mr Wicks was registered as a donor in a region-wide appeal to help save the life of school teacher Bob Churton. Mr Churton died of leukaemia in 1997.

Mr Wicks, 38, and Mr Churton were good friends through their association as long-time volunteers with Gerringong Surf Life Saving Club. The annual Bob Churton Memorial Gerringong Surf Spectacular was founded in Mr Churton’s honour.

While Mr Wicks was unable to help save his friend, his details and those of others who registered at the time were listed with international agencies including the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry, in the hope they would match other patients.

Donors need to match the patient, which can make it difficult to find a donor for patients with rare tissue types. Only one in 1000 donors will be asked to donate for a patient requiring a transplant in any given year.

The Australian Red Cross contacted Mr Wicks last November to say he was a Stage 3 match with a seriously ill patient and requesting that he undergo further analysis.

“A Stage 3 match means more extensive testing is carried out to determine a match by tissue type,” Mr Wicks said. “If you’re compatible, they contact you to see if you still wish to go ahead.”

It is the second time the father of three has been contacted for Stage 3 testing. The first was seven years ago, but in that case he was not compatible with the patient.

The procedure to harvest bone marrow will take about 90 minutes and be done under general anaesthetic today.

Mr Wicks, a long-time Gerringong Rural Fire Service volunteer, does not know the identity or nationality of the recipient. He will get updates on the patient’s progress after six months and 12 months.

He expected some discomfort in the process, but was undeterred.

“My only thought is that I may be helping to save someone’s life,” he said.

NSW Ambulance supports bone marrow donation by giving staff leave to undergo, and recuperate from, the process.

For details on being a donor, visit the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry at abmdr.org.au.

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