Little Sorrel to spearhead donor campaign

A “MIRACLE” four-year-old who owes her life to pioneering stem cell treatment is spearheading a drive which doctors hope will revolutionise bone marrow transplants.

James Mortlock

A “MIRACLE” four-year-old who owes her life to pioneering stem cell treatment is spearheading a drive which doctors hope will revolutionise bone marrow transplants.

As Sorrel Mason celebrates the second anniversary of her ground-breaking operation, the Suffolk youngster is to star in a video marking a UK medical milestone which experts believe will save many children and adults from almost certain death.

Her proud father, Robert Mason, who lives with his family at Great Wratting, near Haverhill, said he was happy with the filming to go ahead to help “give something back” to the profession he owes so much.

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The video is part of the first NHS scheme in the country - at Kings Hospital, London - to harvest umbilical cord cells donated by women who have just given birth.

Sorrel was given cord blood harvested in Japan following a desperate search for a match and Mr Mason said the latest steps forward were crucial for more medical success stories like Sorrel's: “King's is the first NHS hospital in the country to do this and the video Sorrel is in explains to mothers what's involved.

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“People could donate at private hospitals in the UK but it was not very widespread. Now, it will be provided on the NHS and there will be a national bank which people can access. It's still very pioneering - but the umbilical cord is very rich in stem cells which are what we needed for the type of bone marrow transplant Sorrel had.

“What she is helping with now is pioneering - hopefully she is still helping to push forward medical knowledge.”

Mr Mason and his wife, Samantha, were devastated when Sorrel was diagnosed with deadly acute myeloid leukaemia in September 2006 but since her operation in early February 2007, their lives have been transformed.

For almost two years Sorrel was unable to mix with other children while her immune system, which had been stripped away for the stem cell treatment, rebuilt itself. But from September, Sorrel has been well enough to attend pre-school.

However, on her second day she caught chicken-pox - a moment her parents had dreaded as it would test her ability to fight infection to the limit. Mrs Mason said: “It can be very, very dangerous for children who have had leukaemia - they find it very difficult to cope with it post transplant but thankfully Sorrel was strong enough and she's now enjoying being a normal four-year-old.

“One of her favourite things is going to her school friend's birthday parties as it's something she and her sister, Daisy, who's two-and-a-half, haven't been able to do until now because of the risks of infection.”

And as well as starring in the King's video, Sorrel has become one of the faces of the Anthony Nolan Trust - the charity which campaigns for people to put their names on the Anthony Nolan bone marrow register.

Pictures of the youngster appear on its literature, pamphlets and website and she has been the face of easyJet's staff campaign for the trust.

Her parents are now trying to get people to join the bone marrow donor register by holding a clinic at the Clements Surgery, Haverhill, on February 19.

Mr Mason said: “There are thousands of people who are searching for a bone marrow donor and we want to encourage people to join register and give someone the chance of life. I myself have joined and all that happens is that you give a blood sample and fill in some forms - it's as simple as that. If people could see the difference a transplant has made to Sorrel's life they would know this is a worthwhile thing to do.”

His wife said she believed many people associated bone marrow transplant with organ donation: “People think it involves an operation but it doesn't - and it's not a painful procedure.”

She said Sorrel owed her life to such a decision by a young mother on the other side of the world: “I feel very humbled that that one piece of generosity saved my daughter's life.”

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