Jinshan man's stem cells donated to boy in UK

Feb 2, 2015

A British representative (left) shakes hands with Jiang Yongfeng to thank the Jinshan native's donation of stem cells to save the life of a 7-year-old boy of Asian heritage in the UK.

IN the morning of January 14, Jiang Yongfeng, lying peacefully on the bed of Beijing Air Force General Hospital, extended his right arm and donated his stem cells to a stranger living on the other side of the world.

In the afternoon, Jiang's 200ml of stem cells were transported by air to England to save the life of a needy recipient, a 7-year-old boy of Asian heritage.

Jiang, 35, a Jinshan native, became Shanghai's 11th person to donate stem cells to a foreigner and made the long-distance match between China and UK something akin to a medical miracle.

"My biggest wish is the boy can survive the transplant and have a happy life," he said with a smile.

Jiang signed up for a stem cell registration in March 2013. Last November the Red Cross called him to say his stem cells had been matched to a boy in England.

"I was so surprised. Many people joined the registration but can't get the match for years," Jiang said. "I had my match so soon. It's an amazing fate, isn't it?"

After many blood draws and tests, Jiang's stem cells were finally confirmed to highly match the boy's, and the Jinshan native agreed to donate.

"My wife and son both supported me. My parents were worried at first, but after my explanation and persuasion, they understood at last. After all, I'm doing a good thing," Jiang said.

His 12-year-old son didn't know clearly about "stem cell," but he knew his dad was going to save people and was excited about the blood test result.

"He was asking me if I was matched and when I was going to Beijing," Jiang said with a smile.

Before the stem cell donation, Jiang was extremely careful about his daily diet in order to stay in good physical condition during the blood tests and draws.

Worried that air travel might cause dizziness and tinnitus, Jiang and his wife, Cao Yanhua, decided to take a train to Beijing on January 9.

They went ice skating in the sports stadium nor far from the hospital. "But I didn't play hard because I had to stay well before the donation," Jiang said.

Most of the time, the couple stayed in the hospital. "The air was not good and he was afraid to catch cold," Cao said.

They reached Beijing a few days before the actual donation, because the procedure required him to receive injections into his blood that would "activate" the stem cells. On January 14, Jiang underwent the donation that lasted about three hours. He was hooked up to a transfusion machine, from which the healthy stem cells were extracted from his blood. The whole process, he recalled, was relatively painless.

He chatted with his wife and used his smartphone to share the process on his social account with his friends.

The doctor said Jiang will not experience any negative health effects from the procedure.

"I just wanted the procedure to be done quickly so my stem cells could be sent to the UK to help the boy as soon as possible," Jiang said.

The China Marrow Donor Program has more than 2 million people registered to donate. More than 4,700 have been matched so far, including 184 donated to recipients in foreign countries. Last year, 756 successful stem cell matches were made.

By rough estimates, China has almost 1 million leukemia patients.

Some are in serious need of stem cells, said CMDP deputy director Gao Dongying.

"A successful match within China is already very rare — a chance of one in several thousand, not to mention a match between China and a foreign country," Gao said.

However, 2 million registered donors is still not enough, compared with the pool of more than 7 million potential donors in the US.

How to motivate more people to join CMDP is a top priority for the organization.

"We will work harder in more communities. But the support we want most is from the donor's family members," the deputy director said.

One way to encourage citizens to become donors is to simplify the collection method. Since last year, CMDP has started to collect people's saliva as a sample to extract blood stem cell information.

"It's more convenient than a blood draw. But saliva collection won't replace blood draw. The two methods will both be in practice," Gao said. Shanghai Red Cross deputy director Li Minglei said events will be held every year in cities' downtown areas to motivate people to join the donors' pool. This was how Jiang was attracted.

The coastal Jinshan, located in Shanghai's southwest by Hangzhou Bay, is one of the city's biggest donors of blood stem cells.