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Stem cells donated: Beuel man saves English boy's life

Stem cells donated : Beuel man saves English boy's life

The Beuel man Michael Mertens donated stem cells to Jack from Birmingham, who suffers from leukemia, thus saving the boy's life.

Michael Mertens still reacts very emotionally when he thinks back over the past months. Little Jack from Birmingham has touched his heart - and changed his life. "It's still very close to me when I see the video Jack's family put online," says the 30-year-old, who grew up in Beuel and whose father has been responsible for the smooth running of the Weiberfastnacht procession for over 30 years.

In the film, mother Joe tells the story of her children, her eldest daughter Lauren and the now 13-year-old twins Emily and Jack. Daughter Emily fell ill with cancer as a small child, then three years ago fate struck again mercilessly: Brother Jack was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive leukaemia - with a devastating prognosis: If the boy did not receive a stem cell donation within a few weeks, he would be dead in six months. "I can't imagine how the family, and Jack in particular, must have felt," says Michael Mertens.

A few years ago, he himself was confronted with the topic of cancer when a girl in his circle of friends fell ill. Immediately friends organized a typifying action for the DKMS at that time (Bone Marrow Donors Database Germany), and that way Michael Mertens was registered also in the marrow donor file. How important the harmless saliva sample would become for one small human being, he could not have guessed.

In 2015, from one day to the next, the entirelife of the city council employee changed entirely. "I got a call that I might be a potential donor," he remembers. Further research followed and finally in November 2015 it was clear that the 30-year-old could save a life."I didn't hesitate a minute," he says. However, there was only one condition for the operation. "The procedure was not allowed to take place on Weiberfastnacht. I didn't care about anything else", his "jecke"nature came through despite all the drama.

"Cried like dogs"

He did not know anything about the recipient for data protection reasons. "In the conversations, I only heard that it was a child living abroad. On 3 January 2016, stem cells were taken from Mertens in Cologne. Only two small punctures on his back remained. After the extraction, he learned that his cells were destined for a ten-year-old boy in Birmingham, and shortly afterwards he received the brief news that everything had gone well. However, Mertens was not allowed to contact his genetic twin. Anonymously donor and recipient wrote each other via the DKMS. „My letters and mails were always addressed to ‚My hero‘“, says Mertens deeply moved.

On 3 January 2018, the mandatory contact ban was finally over and Mertens now learned more about the recipient. "Our first conversation was really incredible. We both cried on the phone like dogs. I am so grateful that I was able to help him," says the 30-year-old. A short time later they met in person for the first time.

To the large charity gala of the DKMS in London Jack with his mother, step father and his sisters, Mertens came in thecompany of his mother Marieluise, sister Stephanie Wenzel and friend Sabrina Brück. "One cannot imagine how gratefully the whole family met me," Mertens remembers with a smile. Donor and recipient quickly discovered that not only their genetic traits fit together perfectly, but that they share the same hobbies. "We're both soccer fans, and we're involved with the fire department.“ That's why Mertens had an FC scarf for the boy in his luggage.

Jack's birthday gets celebrated twice a year since 2016. "The day on which he received my stem cells is a big family celebration," said Mertens, pleased that the 13-year-old is now doing very well again. Because: "I wouldn't have been able to cope with it if Jack hadn't been cured. Even if I wouldn’t be guilty as such," he says. But these worries are superfluous. Over the next few months, Mertens and his girlfriend will travel back to Birmingham. „His mother Joe promised me that she would teach me how to drive in England," he laughs. And he wants to invite his little „twin brother“ to the Rhineland soon. "Maybe to Pützchen's Market. I'm sure he would like that very much."

(Original text: Gabriele Immenkeppel / Translation: Mareike Graepel)