The selfless act of lifesaver Rob Jones
Pontypridd hooker Robert Jones has received great news about the young man he donated bone marrow to
Last month, a letter dropped onto Robert Jones’ doormat containing just about the best possible news. It revealed the person he had donated bone marrow to was doing very well, two years on from a life-saving blood stem cell transplant.
The Pontypridd hooker doesn’t know much about the recipient, other than he’s a 24-year-old young man from Ireland. But with two years having passed, that person will now receive details of his donor and can get in touch with him and meet up if he so wishes.
It’s a meeting Jones would love to see take place.
He has decided to talk about what he did and the happy outcome in order to encourage more people to join the donor list.
So how did it all come about?
“I have given blood for about 10, 12 years now,” he explained. “Then about four years ago, the Welsh Blood Service just asked me if I would mind going on the bone marrow donor list.
“I lost my grandfather, Howard, to leukaemia six years ago. So as soon as they said it could benefit people who suffer with blood cancer, I couldn’t say no, really. I joined the register and they just took an extra sample of blood to test.
“I didn’t expect to hear anything, but within a year and a half, Welsh Blood contacted me to say they had a potential match. I was a bit shell-shocked. I went down and had a discussion with them. I didn’t know anything about who I was going to be donating to at that point. I went for a medical, a full body MOT to make sure I was fit enough.”
With that box ticked, it was then a question of deciding which procedure to go for.
“They give you two options,” he explained.“Either a stem cell transplant where you are hooked up to a machine for 12 hours or taking the bone marrow, which involves drilling into your hip bone. I went for the drilling one.
“In simple terms, the stem cell is quantity over quality, whereas the bone marrow is quality over quantity. When I had my meetings with Welsh Blood to make my choice, they said it was a 22-year-old young boy from Ireland who had leukaemia.
“At the time, my brother was 23, 24 and I just thought imagine that was my brother.
“The only thing I could think of was imagine the shoe was on the other foot and it was one of my family members or friends suffering. Plus the idea of being hooked up to a machine for 12 hours straight would have skulled me to death! So I went for the bone marrow option. It was more likely to be helpful and useful.”
That was in January 2018. When you hear exactly what the procedure involved, you have nothing but admiration for Jones.
“They drill straight into your hip bones to the core and then they withdraw your whole bone marrow,” he said. “There were six drill holes right in the bottom of my back. It depends on the individual, the amount of marrow they take. If there’s enough to take, they keep taking it really. The nurse said they took a hell of lot more from me than a normal person, possibly because I am so big!
“I think it was 600 mill they had out of me.The operation lasted about three hours in all. I woke up from the anaesthetic about 1pm in the afternoon and I was in so much pain I said ‘put me straight back under!’
“It was such a severe ache I just couldn’t ignore it. So they put more morphine in and I went straight back to sleep. Then I woke up about 6pm and my mother was there to pick me up. She said I just looked horrendous, as white as a ghost. But I went home that evening, so I was in and out of hospital in the day.
“I couldn’t sit down for a week. I had to lie flat. So I was more or less settee or bed bound. Obviously I was in a lot of pain and I was off work for three or four months. They were really supportive. I was still aching for up to a year, but not to the extent as when I woke up.”
Jones, who works as an area manager for Wales & West Utilities’ gas distribution network, obviously had a break from rugby while he recovered – although not for too long.
He was with Cross Keys at the time, having joined them following a seven-year stint with his hometown club Treorchy, for whom he played more than 200 games.
“One of the big questions I asked was whether it would prevent me playing rugby, but they said it would have no long-lasting effect,” he said.“I was back training after about eight weeks and played my first game after around four months, towards the end of the season.
“For about a year, every time I was having scrummaging sessions or a game, the bottom of my back was just aching.
“I am a hooker, so I am right in the mix of it. The second rows were pushing right on the sore spot at the bottom of my spine.”
A year on from his procedure, Jones received notification the recipient had survived the transplant and last month there was an even more positive update.
The letter from Welsh Blood said the young man from Ireland was very well and had not suffered any major complications.
“That makes it all worthwhile,” said Jones. “It’s very rewarding.”
And it also raises the possibility of donor and recipient meeting up.
“After two years, they get all my information, so they can contact me,” he said.
“If he wants to get in touch with me, I would love to hear from him, just to see how he is and meet him possibly. That would be phenomenal. I am open to the idea of getting to know him, but obviously it’s totally down to the individual.”
Now 29, Jones is in his second season with Pontypridd having switched to Sardis Road after two years with Cross Keys.
“I’m loving it there. They are a really great bunch of boys,” he said.
He’s currently sidelined with a hamstring problem, but understandably such issues are pretty minor in the general scheme of things when you have been through the kind of experience he has.
Ask him whether he would do it all again if he had his time over, and he provides an emphatic answer.
“100 per cent. I would do it again tomorrow,” he said.“I have given that person at least two years extra.The bone marrow is the last straw. If he hadn’t had that, he probably wouldn’t have been around today.
“I have no regrets at all and if I could do it again tomorrow, I would. You just give someone that little hope and I would definitely encourage people to think about going on the register.”