Real Voices interview: Olly Rofix

Meet Olly, a sailor and bone marrow recipient

What do you do?

I’m 25, I used to be an engineer at the port of Felixstowe, but I left work last year to concentrate on rebuilding my boat. I bought it as an inspiration to get me through the bone marrow transplant I had for leukaemia five years ago.

What are your plans next?

Next year I’m sailing around Britain to raise money for the Anthony Nolan charity. They run the UK’s largest stem cell register. They found me my donor and saved my life. I also want to show other young people with cancer that if you’ve got a focus or a goal, you can live longer, or you can beat it.

I was thinking, whose blood is that? Who is this one person in the world who’s saving my life?

How did you find out you had leukaemia?

I was first diagnosed in 2005 with glandular fever because I started to get very tired. Then a routine blood test showed that I had leukaemia. The doctors told me I was only the third person in the world to be diagnosed with this type of leukaemia – and the other two were dead. So I needed a bone marrow transplant urgently. Anthony Nolan scanned the register and found me one with a really good tissue match.

How did they give you the transplant?

I had to have another lot of chemotherapy and total-body radiation – the harshest form they ever give to anyone – to destroy my own bone marrow. Then they gave me the new bone marrow. It just dripped in from a bag like a blood transfusion, through a tube that went directly through my chest muscle and ribs into my heart. It took about two hours for the bone marrow to drip in. As I watched it dripping in, I was thinking, whose blood is that? Who is this one person in the world who’s saving my life?

How did you understand the stem cell therapy?

I saw it in an engineering way, as giving me an oil change: getting rid of my bone marrow and putting fresh in.

Did the doctors tell you what your prognosis was?

Yes, the survival rates of the transplant then weren’t fantastic, 10 to 15 per cent. It was quite scary – your whole life is put into a figure. Now, I’m in remission, and if I get the all-clear next March, that will be five years post-transplant.

Did you meet your donor?

Yes, earlier this year. I met him and was able to thank him, as I wouldn’t be here without him.

If you want to become a bone marrow donor, join the Anthony Nolan register.

Further reading

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘The Cell’ in February 2011 and reviewed and updated in September 2015.

Cell biology, Health, infection and disease
The Cell
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development