A Sheffield dad who battled back from death after two stem-cell transplants has met the donor who saved his life.
Mark Ritson, aged 49, met Jacqueline Harfmann, from Germany, two years after she anonymously donated her stem cells – twice.
Jacqueline stayed with Mark and his family at their Fulwood home and visited the Royal Hallamshire Hospital where the transplants took place.
Mark said: “It was a bit surreal to meet her. At first I was quite British about it, not wanting to be too emotional, but by the time she left we were hugging and had become good friends.
“She stayed at my house, with my kids running around, and she could see what she had given me. It became real.
“You can’t choose the person who is your donor, but if I could I would have chosen Jacqueline.”
Mark said he had feared that his anonymous donor would not go ahead with a second donation after the first transplant failed.
But Jacqueline, who was only 19 at the time, said she had no doubts.
She said: “After the first transplant I was so full of hope that everything would be fine.
“I thought about it almost all the time. Then they told me it had failed, but there was a possibility to donate again and give it another try.
“They said I could think about it, but I was sure in that very second that I wanted to try. I didn’t want to let him down.”
In 2008 Mark was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia, a rare blood disease that means the bone marrow does not produce enough platelets or red and white blood cells.
The potentially fatal condition leaves the sufferer vulnerable to uncontrolled bleeding and infections.
He was treated at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, where he underwent a total of 104 blood transfusions and had two bouts of aggressive immunotherapy treatment.
He recovered for a period, during which time he completed a first marathon, but relapsed in 2012 and was told that the only hope of a cure was a stem cell transplant.
This led to a worldwide search, which eventually took them to Jacqueline.
Mark underwent his first transplant at the Hallamshire in March 2013, at the same time as his wife, Lisa, was pregnant with their first child in the Jessop Wing Hospital a matter of minutes away.
Their baby daughter, Iona, was born prematurely five days after Mark left hospital.
But in the weeks that followed Mark’s blood counts started to drop again and it became clear that the transplant hadn’t worked.
Mark said: “There was a period of a few days when I thought I was in serious trouble, because there was concern my body was not strong enough to cope with a second transplant.
“But I never thought it wouldn’t end well, I always remained optimistic and I am proud of that.
“When I think about it now, it feels as though it was somebody else that has been through it. It was extremely difficult for my family, but I had nothing but support from them.
“It must have been incredibly difficult for Lisa with a tiny baby to look after. In a way I was quite selfish and just concentrated on surviving.”
After the second transplant, Mark had an 18 month period where he suffered from other complications associated with his condition.
But his immune system is now functioning properly and he feels ‘completely normal.’
He also has a second baby, a little boy called Magnus, and completed the London Marathon on Sunday.
He said: “The hospital treatment I have received has been unbelievable. In years gone by, this illness would have been a death sentence.
“I was so lucky to have these facilities and this expertise on my doorstep, and I am still in touch with many of the people who helped to treat me.”