Northern Ireland

Bone marrow donor saves life in the United States

Jenna Armstrong
Image caption Jenna Armstrong travelled to London for the procedure

A 23-year-old woman from Belfast has successfully donated her bone marrow to help save the life of a stranger in America.

The transplant, which gave the man a new immune system, helped him fight off blood cancer.

Jenna Armstrong is from the Ormeau Road in Belfast and travelled to London three weeks ago for the procedure.

She said doing so was "a no-brainer" because it was a chance to save someone's life.

Image caption Jenna had to undergo a health check and pass a series of tests

"In my head what I was doing was insignificant compared to what they had been going through," she said.

The operation followed a harvesting process where, in May 2016, Jenna was part of a group of people tested to see if they matched a seriously ill child with Leukaemia who lives in Northern Ireland.

While no match was found for the child, several months later, Jenna was contacted and told she matched with someone else.

"All I know is that the match is a man who is 29 and living in America," she told BBC News NI.

"I am not allowed to know his identity, but in time if he wants he's allowed to contact me.


"I can send him a card but at this stage no further contact or details are allowed."

Jenna had to undergo a health check and after passing a series of tests, she travelled back to London and underwent a procedure which extracted fluid from her back.

"I had five injections in my back and they extracted 1.2 litres of my bone marrow, which was the maximum they could take from someone of my height and and weight," she said.

"They told me I would have some discomfort, which I had but it was totally fine."

The method in which Jenna's bone marrow was extracted is rare.

In fact, 90% of donors donate via a blood donation.

Jenna's mum, Gillian Armstrong, said she was proud of her daughter and they decided to go public with their story to encourage others to be tested.

"It was very emotional as it was before Christmas," said Mrs Armstrong.

"I kept thinking what if it was my child, my brother or husband.

"I'd hope that someone would do the same for our family.

"We didn't have to discuss it - we just agreed as a family and supported Jenna."

The actual donation process to find out if a person is a match is straightforward.

Genetic match

It can either be done via the Blood Transfusion Service or the Anthony Nolan Register.

A swab is requested, which means giving a saliva sample or a swab of your cheek.

Whenever a patient with blood cancer or a blood disorder needs a life-saving stem cell transplant, the register is searched for someone who is a genetic match for that patient.

If the donor is a match and is still healthy and happy to do so they will be asked to donate.