In 2018, B.C resident Jordan Knodell got a call from the Canadian Blood Services while he was on vacation in Mexico. Seven years earlier, he had joined the stem cell registry. At the time, on the other side of the world, a man in England named Richard Potter needed a stem cell transplant. Turned out, this English man had a match. Someone who he had never met, living thousands of kilometres away in another country was going to save his life. I was fortunate enough to interview Richard Potter’s stem cell donor. Now a nursing student, Jordan hopes that his story will encourage others to sign up and join the stem cell registry. Jordan’s positivity, selflessness and courage serves as an inspiration to us all!
What made you initially sign up to join the registry?
Well I originally wanted to sign up to join the registry because I wanted to simply make a difference. Back in 1999, I was very lucky enough to have met Betty, and Rolly Fox, who are the parents of Canadian hero, and my personal hero, Terry Fox. I was only seven then, but that was when I was first introduced to Terry Fox and his story. I remember thinking how amazing it was that one single person could make such an impact on peoples lives, and that maybe, one day, I could be that impact for someone as well, or even multiple people. So fast forward to 2011, I had become a regular blood donor, and I am still to this day. I was donating blood at my local clinic when that memory of meeting the Fox’s came to my mind. So I thought ‘what else could I give other than blood?’ So I asked the RN working at the clinic how I could maybe go about donating bone marrow, she then handed me a pamphlet for “One Match Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Network by Canadian Blood Services”. Of course, I knew I had to do this, I had to. So that very night, I went online to their website, gave them my information. Within a week, I got a huge envelope package, which contained four Q-tip cotton swabs to swab for the inside of each cheek. I then returned the swabs with my DNA on them back to Ontario, where it would be tested. Shortly there after, I got a letter stating that I was officially on the list of donors. I knew I had done the right thing in that moment, and doing the right thing is the ultimate superhero power.
What was your first thought when you received that phone call from Canadian Blood Services?
Shock, pure and utter shock. I was on vacation in Mexico when I got the call. I was standing in my room, very sunburned and stunned when they had told me that I was a potential match with someone. I had been on the list for over seven years at this point and I had completely forgotten that I was. They asked me if I wanted to move forward with the donation process, and I don’t think I could’ve said yes faster. They then sent me a blood requisition form via email to have completed at my local hospital, RCH in New Westminster, for when I returned from my vacation. With my blood, they would compare my DNA with my potential match to see if I was a 100% match. However, in the back of my mind, I knew I was a match with this person, I just knew it. And of course, I was right, I was their match, and process began immediately.
Did you know Richard Potter personally before becoming his donor? Have you ever met with him? If not, do you ever plan on meeting up in-person?
I actually did not know Richard until this past Summer. During the donation process, everything is kept very anonymous. I don’t know him, and he doesn’t know me. I didn’t know whether if he was a boy, a girl, a man, or a woman. I didn’t know whether or not they had leukemia, or some other disease. I knew nothing, and it had to stay that way for at least a year. The only thing I really knew was that my match lived in the Manchester area of the UK because the nurses at RCH had told me that’s where my DNA was being tested for the matching process. Although I didn’t know him, he was on my mind every day before, during, and after the donation. He had become my friend in that moment, and I didn’t even know him. I have not met Richard in person yet. I finally got to meet him, and his family via zoom this past Summer. I do plan on visiting the UK at some point when this Covid stuff finally calms down. I can’t wait to finally give him a huge hug and thank him for changing my life in so many ways. I know meeting in person will be a very emotional experience, but it’ll be another life changing chapter in my life.
Can you describe your experience throughout the entire donation process? Was it painful? Did you have any doubts throughout the process?
The only way I can describe my experience of donating was that it was long, but worth it. From the moment I got the call, to the day of my donation, the process took almost three months to complete. I had to have several phone call appointments with my nurse case manager, in which she had to ask me about sixty or so questions about my health per phone call. However, during these phone calls, she also provided me the information I needed to know about my donation, which was a lot. Where it was going to be, what to expect, how I’m going to feel before, during and after I donate and so on, and so forth. She also set me up with my appointments at Vancouver General Hospital, which was the hospital where my donation would be, for my physicals, my blood work, and my injections of GCSF. Now those injections were where the pain came into play. GCSF is a stem cell stimulant, I got two injections a day, five days before my donation, and on the second day of the injections, the pain in my lower back was so bad, I couldn’t walk. My nurse case manager had stated to me that this was to be expected, but I was allowed to take Tylenol for the pain, which I took like M&M’s. The pain had dissipated shortly after taking the Tylenol. The actual donation is very simple, and not the huge surgery which it use to be. Usually, you have a needle attached to each vein in your forearms, and you are attached to a machine called “aphaeresis”. This machine is responsible for separating your bone marrow from your red blood cells from one arm and puts the red cells back in your body via the other arm. However, this is where the fear did come in for me. The vein in my right arm is very deep, and when I had my physical done, the doctor had told me because of this, I would have to undergo what is called a “Saint Paul's catheter” which is a 6 inch needle they inject into my neck, then attach it to a vein connected to my heart. Even though I had all of this pain, fear and anxiety, I knew that this was nothing compared to what my recipient was currently going through. All of this was temporary for me, which made it easier for me to deal with, but for Richard, God knows how long it would’ve lasted for him. I had to keep that idea in my mind at all times, I had to. If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t have made this experience a positive one. Also, throughout my process, everyone told me that my recipient may not make it. But something told me that he was in fact going to survive, I knew it.
What would you say to people thinking about signing up to join the registry?
I would tell them to do it now. Do it while you still can. Everyone has a gift within themselves that can be given at anytime. That gift, is the gift of time. Simply placing your name on the list of donors ensures that you’ll be giving this gift to someone in need of it. This gift of time isn’t just being given to the recipient, but also to everyone involved within their life. Their family, friends, loved ones, neighbours, the health care workers, everyone. You are giving them more time to be with this person who may not have a lot of time left. You are giving this person the gift of time to be able to live to their full god given, and much deserved potential. You could be giving this gift to the next Prime Minister of Canada, or the next President of the United States. You could even be giving this gift to the next Steven Spielberg, Chef Ramsey, Emily Carr, Oprah Winfrey. They could even be the cure for cancer, diabetes, or even aids. That’s the beauty of this gift, and it being anonymous. The person receiving your gift could be something great, if you just put your foot forward, be kind and sign up. You can do it! You can be the difference in this persons life.
How has this process changed your life? What are your future plans?
This process has changed my life in so many ways. Before donating, I was the type of person who looked at the glass as half full instead of half empty. After what I did for Richard, my eyes finally opened to what my life could potentially be. Being in the hospital so many times for my donation, I realized that I wanted to be a Registered Nurse. I want to take care of people in their most vulnerable of times, I want to wipe the tears of fear from amazing people who don’t deserve to be afraid, and I want to give back more than anything, just like Terry Fox did. And I know nursing will fulfill that for me. I am now living a half empty glass kind of life. I am in school, taking pre requisites for nursing school, I smile everyday at random people for no reason, I love giving, not just blood, but other things for people in need of a smile. I now love experiencing new things, and not being afraid to leave my comfort zone. Travelling to new places, speaking new languages, eating different foods, meeting new people and studying history are just some the things I now love doing because of my donation. In a very platonic way, Richard saved my life as well. I didn’t think I had any future, but he gave me the gift of being able to see that I actually have a glorious future, and as does he. My life, forever more, is now changed because of donating, and I couldn’t be happier for it. I am going to be a stem cell and bone marrow advocate for the rest of life, and I am so happy to be able to tell me, and Richards story.
A huge thank you to Jordan for sharing his story with the Swab The World community. If you want to become a stem cell donor, sign up here!