Grandfather, grandmother, mother-in-law, boyfriend, friends and fellow students. A whole army of Amber Visser’s family and friends marched onto campus on Tuesday to draw attention to her illness and to sign up stem cell donors.

The mantra at the ‘stem cell stand’ on the square between the food court and Erasmus Pavilion? “It’s no big deal.” Many students and staff were pleasantly surprised to find that signing up to be a donor took less than five minutes.

“Why wouldn’t you do it,” asks Tessel Willemstein (20), IBCoM student. “I’m a donor, but I’d actually never thought about donating stem cells. When I heard that I could arrange it within five minutes, I was all for it.”

Personal details entered on the laptop, a cotton bud wiped across both cheeks for thirty seconds and the donor registration is complete. Partly thanks to a very enthusiastic promotion team, 150 people followed Willemstein’s example. “Nearly everyone was enthusiastic,” says Jamilla, one of Amber’s friends and a fanatic ‘propper’. “That’s brilliant and I hope that I can do something for Amber. In fact, this is the only way I can help her.”

amber visser stamceldonoren stand campus (8)

More awareness

Representing Matchis (the Netherlands centre for stem cell donors), Glenn Vonk was here to organise the donations. He’s delighted with the support. “Of course, it’s all much faster online when we’ve been on television, for example. Then we get dozens of registrations every minute. But this is much more important. It’s about creating awareness.”

Matchis is increasingly focusing on students in the search for new donors. “Anyone aged between 18 and 50 can register, with a few exceptions. But among people under the age of 35, the cells are simply better. And we are particularly looking for men, who are still underrepresented in the database.”


amber visser stamceldonoren stand campus (15)

If anyone knows how important the search for new stem cell donors is, it’s Vonk. Around two and a half years ago, he underwent a transplant himself. “That’s the reason I’m here today, because I know what it can mean and I want to make my own contribution to help others.”

Besides informing potential donors, he also tries to reassure people. He’s successful with IBA student Romke Hepkema (18) “I was always a bit worried because I thought that donating after a match would hurt,” says Hepkema. “But I heard that it’s not that bad, so I wanted to put my name down.” However, there’s only a small chance that he or any of the other new donors is eventually called on to donate blood: around 1 in 2000.

Younger brother

However successful the donor campaign was, it may not be necessary for Amber herself. “My younger brother is probably a 100 percent match”, she says delightedly. “At the moment, I’m not sure if I can use his cells because he’s a minor, and doctors prefer not to. But it’s reassuring that there’s a match. Because it’s all going well: the first treatment worked and the second course of treatment is going according to plan. I just need a transplant now. That’s why I’m so pleased that so many new donors have come along.”