Calgary man travels to U.K. to meet the donor who saved his life

Click to play video: 'Calgary man travels to U.K. to meet the man who saved his life'
Calgary man travels to U.K. to meet the man who saved his life
WATCH: A Calgary man just got back from the vacation of a lifetime but there was a bigger purpose for his journey. As Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, he travelled to the U.K. to meet with the person who saved his life – Jun 10, 2024

A Calgary man just got back from the vacation of a lifetime, but there was a bigger purpose for his journey.

Rod Neander travelled to the U.K. to meet with the person who had saved his life.

Neander was always a healthy person who loved skiing with his kids until a blood cancer diagnosis.

He went through rounds of chemotherapy at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary in 2019 to fight the lymphoma, but a stem cell transplant was the best option for survival.

“It is kind of a dramatic point. You’re either going to make it or you won’t through a stem cell transplant,” Neander said.

Neander’s sisters weren’t a match. The only other option was to go out into the world and see if there was a good donor. After a few months of searching, a match was found.

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It came from a young man living near Sheffield in northern England who had signed up to the stem cell registry eight years earlier.

“It’s quite remarkable — after eight years we find the guy and he has the same phone number and he’s still willing to do it. He is still healthy. There’s a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong,” Neander said.

Four years later, Tom Marshall’s frozen stem cells flew over the Atlantic to Calgary. The two men met for the first time in Manchester.

“It’s a wonderful thing to shake his hand and give him a hug and say thank you. If he had not done it, I  might not be here,” Neander said.

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“Four years after the donation and he is still alive and still getting to spend precious time with his family. For me, it’s an honour to have been able to be a part of that. I know how grateful he is,” Marshall said from his home in Penistone north of Sheffield.

“It’s been four years since the donation and to meet the person that received those stem cells and for him to be well and he’s a great guy, it just blew me away.”

Tom and Rod have become like family.  The two men have both had a remarkable couple of years. Neander got to see his daughter graduate while Marshall recently married and has a one-year-old daughter.

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“I hope this is even more uplifting for him (with) all the other things happening and he has saved some guy in Canada’s life, ” laughed Neadner “He’s had a pretty good year.”

Marshall recalls feeling his bones aching for a day after getting the injection to prepare for donating, but he said he’d do it all over again.

“It’s a minor inconvenience. Especially after meeting him and knowing Rod was the recipient, because he is such a great guy,” Marshall said.

Nearly 1,000 people in Canada are waiting for a life-saving stem cell transplant. People between the ages of 17 and 35 can join the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell registry.

“It kind of feels like we are family now. My body produces his blood. It’s quite remarkable to think about that,” Neander said.

“There must’ve been 200 doctors and medical professionals that I dealt with that were there to help me and keep me alive and keep me moving forward, but it really took that one donor to make the difference. To give me a new chance at life.”

Marshall said after the donation process, there’s a minimum amount of time before you can communicate with the recipient because, after two years, a full recovery is more likely.

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“The registry got in touch with me and said, ‘Would you be interested in speaking with your donor? He’s expressed interest,’ and I said, ‘Why not,'”  Marshall said.

The two first met online two years ago.  Marshall said that when his daughter was born, Neander sent a necklace for his daughter made from a jewel that had been in his family for a hundred years.

“It really blew us away — the gift from his family to ours … and what an amazing person he really is,” Marshall said.

“When I first donated, I saw it as an opportunity to save someone’s life, but since becoming a dad and speaking to Rod, it’s meant even more. He has time not only for himself, but for his family as well and he’s been able to see his daughter graduate and it really brings home the importance of stem cell donation.”

Neander credits  The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Canada (LLSC) for helping him in his journey. The LLSC offers personalized support and free informational resources for cancer survivors, including peer support matches, virtual support groups, and other programs and services.

“The society has been a pivotal touchpoint during my blood cancer experience, and continues to be,” Neander said.

Click to play video: 'Canadian Blood Services campaign urges young adults to become stem cell registrants'
Canadian Blood Services campaign urges young adults to become stem cell registrants

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