Hollie Clark's 'pants' campaign helps boost stem cell donors

Gareth Bale Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Wales and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale was one high-profile supporter of the pants campaign

A high-profile campaign to try to help a Cardiff girl who needed a bone marrow transplant has helped Wales top the UK table of registered stem cell donors.

The Anthony Nolan charity said the #pantsonyourhead campaign for Hollie Clark, along with a a worldwide search for a donor for Cardiff student Vithiya Alphons, had raised awareness.

As a result, 9,557 new Welsh donors joined stem cell registers in 2015.

Hollie's father Stephen said: "Out of a tragedy, there's a legacy."

Eight-year-old Hollie, who had a rare bone marrow syndrome, shed light on the need for donors after she inspired stars including Real Madrid footballer Gareth Bale to join a "pants on your head" social media campaign.

Despite finding a donor match, she died in November 2014.

But blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan said the campaign "definitely contributed to the high number of Welsh donors on the register".

Image caption The campaign to find a bone marrow donor for Hollie Clark was backed by TV and sport stars

A report for Anthony Nolan and the NHS Stem Cell Registry showed that Welsh donors increased to 81,662 last year - the highest percentage per 100,000 population across all regions of the UK.

Karen Archer, regional register development manager for Wales, said: "This is an amazing achievement, as everyone who joins the register has the potential to save the life of someone with blood cancer."

Stephen Clark, who has continued to raise awareness about the need for stem cell donors after his daughter's death, said he was "thrilled".

"We will never get over what happened, it was completely tragic," he said.

"But if it wasn't for Hollie and the campaign, I don't think the numbers of donors would have been anything as big as they are.

"We're just so keen to get the message out there that joining the register is so simple - it's just taking a saliva swab from your mouth. But it means you could become a lifesaver."

Despite the increase in numbers, Anthony Nolan said more needed to be done to encourage ethnic minorities to join the register.

The lack of black, Asian and minority ethnic donors was highlighted when Cardiff University student Miss Alphons was diagnosed with leukaemia last year.

Image copyright Facebook / Vithya Alphons
Image caption Bavany Alphons has donated stem cells to her daughter Vithiya

After chemotherapy failed, doctors told her that her only chance of survival was for a stem cell transplant.

But because of her Sri Lankan background, finding a perfect match was difficult and a worldwide search for donors was launched.

After none were found, her mother donated stem cells - even though she is only a 50% match for her daughter - and Miss Alphons had a transplant on Thursday.

Anthony Nolan said publicity surrounding the case had highlighted the need for donors.

"As wonderful as it is to have so many Welsh donors on the register, we are still in desperate need of more people who are mixed race or from black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds, as they are currently under-represented on the donor register," added Ms Archer.

"Diversifying the stem cell donor register will help us find the best possible match for everyone who needs a transplant."

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