After donating blood and plasma for nearly 15 years, Liam Millard (Ngāi Te Rangi) signed up as a bone marrow donor. It was an act of kindness that has saved a life.
Even before he became a bone marrow donor, Liam was no stranger to donation – or to being a lifesaver.
The Mount Maunganui-based bar owner had been regularly donating blood and plasma since 2006.
Early in 2019, a New Zealand Blood Service nurse asked him if he’d like to join the New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry (NZBMDR).
It is a service which matches people willing to donate stem cells from their bone marrow to patients in need of lifesaving treatment.
Not only was Liam in the right age bracket (18 to 35 years old), but as a Māori male, he was also in a group that was under-represented on the registry.
Liam didn’t hesitate. He joined the team of 13,500 potential bone marrow donors in Aotearoa.
“Signing up to be a bone marrow donor sounded like an incredible opportunity to help save a life,” he explains.
Joining the registry to help children in need
The sign-up process was simple. A tiny amount of blood from Liam’s donation was DNA tested and his genetic ‘tissue type’ was recorded on the registry.
This meant he was now available to help someone needing a life-saving bone marrow or stem cell transplant.
Often these transplant recipients have blood cancers or other blood conditions. For Liam this represented a very special opportunity.
“I had an amazing time a few years ago at Camp Quality, a camp for children affected by cancer. Knowing that my bone marrow could be used to help kids just like them was one of my primary motivations for joining.”
Plus, there was a second motivating factor for Liam to join the registry.
Māori, Pacific Island peoples, and those from ethnic groups with smaller populations, are less likely to find a genetic match because there are less of them on the registry.
Liam was therefore keen to support whānau in need.
“I spent a majority of my young life growing up overseas, so it was important to my dad that I retain a link to my Māori culture,” he explains.
“My iwi is Ngāi Te Rangi (Tauranga). We regularly cooked hāngi while living in Brunei, and I was involved in a Kapa Haka group in Bangkok. I think I would have joined the registry regardless, but I think learning that the registry needed Māori donors added some motivation.”
Liam becomes lifesaving match
Less than a year after joining the registry, Liam received the call to say he was a genetic match for a young recipient who needed a lifesaving bone marrow donation.
He had no hesitation in saying yes.
“Once I knew what to expect, I felt reassured I was doing the right thing,” he says.
From the moment he’d donated, Liam was keen to encourage others to join the registry.
“I put a post on Facebook from the recovery room; I know lots of Pacific and Māori boys through my rugby team. A few expressed interest which was great.
“I would absolutely donate my bone marrow again if I were a match for someone else out there. The whole set up was so easy. It’s a no-brainer to pass it on and help someone in the same way.”