While Biomedical Scientist Natalie White knows a thing or two about blood, she never in her wildest dreams imagined she herself would need new, healthy blood cells following a leukemia diagnosis in June 2016.
A senior scientist within Walsall Healthcare’s Blood Bank, Natalie was concerned about her symptoms of constant tiredness and infection - particularly when she’d experienced good health for most of her life.
“In my job you get familiar with circumstances in which patients need blood and the tiredness made me wonder if my red blood cell count was low” explained the 29-year-old.
In March of 2016 Natalie, who lives in Wednesfield, was admitted to New Cross Hospital Emergency Department and was diagnosed with pneumonia and while the condition was treated effectively, her immune system seemed weaker than ever and her original symptoms still persisted.
“If i cut myself - the wound would take longer to heal; If i bumped myself - the bruise would last for ages” she said. “I felt more vulnerable to the world around me and i knew something wasn’t right.”
In the first instance, Natalie’s GP tested to see if she had an vitamin B12 deficiency and recommended supplement tablets, however she still didn’t improve and was urgently referred back to New Cross for testing.
“I knew it wasn’t good news when the consultant asked that I attend an urgent appointment for the results; it was then that he told me that I was developing leukaemia” said Natalie. “We’d caught it early on but nevertheless it was a lot to take in.”
One of many types of cancer, acute myeliod leukaemia occurs when the body produces too many immature white blood cells; the cells that struggle to fight infections. There's no identifiable cause and while it's most common in over 65’s, Natalie was only 28-years-old when diagnosed.
In order to prepare herself for the treatment - a stem cell transplant - sessions of chemotherapy were carried out to kill the cancer and reduce the risk of it coming back; but for a transplant to be carried out, a matching donor had to be found. Fortunately for Natalie, her only sister was a perfect match - without which she was giving an estimated 15 months to live.
“It was a terrifying six weeks waiting to see if she was a match but thank goodness she was able to help me, as for some it’s a case of relying on the national donor register and finding a match isn’t as easy for some.”
The transplant, which replaced the damaged blood cells with healthy ones, was drawn out from sister Rebecca and injected into Natalie in a similar way to a blood transfusion.
Ten months later, Natalie has responded well to the treatment and is slowly returning to work - attending regular check-ups and receiving injections that would normally be giving to new-born babies to build their immune system.
“I’ve been fortunate that i had both a donor and great care - my team here have also been fantastic and supported me all the way.”
As part of Blood Cancer Awareness Month, Natalie is encouraging everyone to sign up and become a stem cell donor and give others a chance for a healthy life.