TO RUSSIA WITH LOVE; One-in-a-million mum saves life of teen 1,000 miles away.
WHEN Julie Arms-Williams agreed to be on the bone marrow register, she never dreamed she would be the only person in the world who could help save the life of a teenager in Russia.
But after being called for tests in May, the mum-of-two was found to be a one-in-a-million match for a leukaemia patient more than 1,000 miles away.
The 51-year-old's stem cell donation may be the only chance that her recipient has of recovering from gruelling chemotherapy.
And when the massage therapist from St Clears in Carmarthenshire, was told the Russian man was 19, a similar age to her own two sons, she didn't hesitate to donate.
"I've always given blood, since I was 18, but a few years ago I was asked if I wanted to put my name on the Welsh Bone Marrow Donation Register (WBMD)," she said. "The way I saw it was that if I had something I could give to help someone else then why not?" Six months ago, Julie received a letter asking her to call the bone marrow service as they were updating their records.
"When I went to my surgery, the phlebotomist said it looked like I might be a match for someone who needed a transplant," she said.
Several samples had to be taken over a few weeks to confirm how close Julie's blood matched the recipient. Within a fortnight, it was confirmed she was a match.
"I was told I would be held in reserve while closer matches were checked from donors on an international register.
"I am nearly 52 and I never thought it would be me. I rang up every now and again to find out what was happening. I was told that I was the only match in Wales, but that there may be others across Europe.
"The Welsh Blood Service has dealt with America, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia for bone marrow donations but they have never dealt with Russia before.
"I was the only match on the register anywhere in the world.
"I have two sons, Curtis, 21, and Bradley, 22, and my maternal feelings kicked in. This was a lad the same age as my boys, no doubt with a mum and dad praying for him to be OK."
Julie's experience has highlighted the desperate need for more donors to come forward, especially among men. Male donors account for just 14% of all donors on the WBMDR register.
There are a number of diseases that prevent a patient's bone marrow from working properly and for many patients the only possibility of a cure is a stem cell transplant from a healthy donor.
Around 70% of people will not find a match within their family and rely on a search of volunteer donors on a registry.
Supported by her husband Peter, Julie underwent a full medical check-up weeks before the transplant process started in September. Having been given a series of injections over three days to increase her production of stem cells, she was admitted to St Joseph's Hospital in Newport where the donation process got under way.
"Although I wasn't allowed to know who exactly the recipient was, I was able to send him a card and I will be told how successful our match has been," she said.
"I will have to wait around 10 or so weeks to find out how things have gone."
HOW DOES A MARROW TRANSPLANT WORK? TRACY Sampson, spokeswoman for the Welsh Blood Service, explained: "There are two ways of donating stem cells for a transplant.
"Having them taken straight from the bone marrow [donating bone marrow] or having them taken from the blood [donating peripheral blood stem cells].
"We collect stem cells from a donor's blood by a procedure called apheresis. Blood is removed from a vein in one arm and passes through plastic tubes into the cell separating machine. "The machine separates the stem cells from the rest of your blood. Your stem cells are collected into a bag and the rest of your blood is given back to you using the vein in your other arm.
"It can take between four to six hours to collect."
For more information on the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry, log on to www.wtail.org.uk/wbmdr/
Julie Arms-Williams at home in St Clears PICTURE: JAMES DAVIES