My stem cells saved my brother’s life

09th September 2013

When Alex Mermikides discovered she was a match for her brother Milton – it was “a magical moment”. Here she talks to Leuka about the ups and downs of her incredible journey as a stem cell donor, which ultimately saved her brother’s life.

“Milton was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in November 2004. He was a fit and healthy young man in his 30’s and one day, on his way to work, he blacked out. In the following days he was told he had cancer.

It was very hard for the whole family and the way it came into our lives was extremely dramatic – it was shocking to see how quickly Milton deteriorated. Suddenly we were trying to get our heads around a lot of complicated information as we were determined to understand everything we could about it.

We had a great relationship with the doctors and nurses at The Catherine Lewis Centre and we were astounded by the level of expertise and care they gave to their patients. They were fantastic at explaining complex information and they really thought about how to say what, and when. We felt very much that we were in safe hands, not only medically, but also emotionally.

The decision was made that Milton would have a transplant and I felt an enormous amount of responsibility – because we are of Greek ethnicity it would be difficult for him to find an unrelated donor. The wait was horrendous but when we learnt that I was a match, it was a magical moment!

For me, the sense of responsibility continued – a transplant is a very serious and delicate procedure and if Milton suffered badly from graft-versus-host-disease (GvHD) after the transplant I would feel awful – it would be my cells attacking his.

There were so many highs and lows along the way and so much time spent watching and waiting. First of all to see if I was a match, then to see if the transplant had been successful, and then for a long time afterwards to see that GvHD didn’t set in. My memory of the whole experience is waiting on numbers, almost like lottery numbers to appear.

Milton suffered an enormous depression after the transplant but we now know that this is a very common occurrence and thankfully he is one of the lucky ones. He’s been extremely fortunate to avoid the worst side-effects and this year he had a baby girl!

We’ve always been close and on a similar career course so we had the idea to raise awareness of stem cell donation through performance. ‘Bloodlines’ traces the drama that plays out between a serious disease and medical treatment, and doing this has really helped us come to terms with what we’ve been through together.”

Milton and Alex Mermikides’ Bloodlines is a AHRC-funded work that fuses music, dance and medicine. Discover more here - https://www.sciculture.ac.uk/2013/11/01/bloodlines-a-new-kind-of-science-arts-collaboration/