Life-saver’s 24-year pledge to be fulfilled

Bone marrow donor Ian Brown with Mary and Rick Haines.
Bone marrow donor Ian Brown with Mary and Rick Haines.
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A bone marrow donor will travel 3,500 miles to complete a life-saving story that began almost a quarter of a century ago.

Morpeth sales manager Ian Brown became a donor in May 1991 when he was shown as a match for a stranger in the United States who was in desperate need of a transplant.

Later, he learned the recipient was 44-year-old Rick Haines, of Delaware, who was suffering from aplastic anaemia.

In the first correspondence between the pair, Mr Haines said he had feared he would never be able to walk his young daughter down the aisle, so his Morpeth donor struck a deal that when the day came he would be there to see it.

Now, 24 years later, that promise is set to be fulfilled as Mr Brown will be the guest of honour at the wedding of Mr Haines’ daughter Marissa to her fiance Dustin on May 9.

And the event will be even more special as Mr Brown, who was widowed four years ago, is set to marry his fiancee Lorraine Scott just a week before.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

“It is not the end of the story, but it completes it. It’s difficult to describe how it feels. I’m very pleased to be able to see this day and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

“It’s extra special because I’m getting married the week before. It will be the first time my new wife will meet the family and she is looking forward to it. Without a doubt we will stay in touch with them after this and I’m sure there will be many more trips.”

The 59-year-old, who is Vice President of Morpeth Lions Club, signed up to the Anthony Nolan bone marrow donor register after seeing his nine-month-old son treated for cancer in 1982 and a campaign for donors by Morpeth Round Table in 1986.

Bone marrow donor Ian Brown with his fiancee Lorraine Scott.

Bone marrow donor Ian Brown with his fiancee Lorraine Scott.

“I put my name down, but I never realised anything was going to happen about it,” he said.

But five years later he didn’t think twice about stepping forward as a donor when he received a letter to say he was a possible match. Following two tests at his own surgery and further checks at a Harley Street clinic in London, he underwent the procedure.

His bone marrow was immediately collected by a courier and flown to the States on Concorde, enabling Mr Haines to have a transplant the same day.

“The procedure has changed now, but at the time it hurt considerably. I did feel as if I had been kicked round a field by a horse, but I knew it was worth it. It was so rewarding. After making the donation I went round with a huge smile on my face for six months,” he said.

I’m very pleased to be able to see this day and I’m very proud to be a part of it.

Ian Brown

Initially, the two men were unable to know each other’s identity, location or contact details, according to procedure, but eventually they were able to make contact.

“It was mainly letters at first,” said Mr Brown.

“Rick wrote a letter to thank me and that’s when he told me he thought he wouldn’t be able to walk his daughter down the aisle. I said, ‘let me see you do it then’, and now that is going to happen.”

The pair met for the first time in 1996 when Mr Brown and his family flew to America.

“It was a bit strange because for all that we had been involved in writing letters, we didn’t know if we were actually going to get on or not,” he said.

“We found out quickly though that we had a very similar sense of humour and we got on very well from the start.”

Rick and Mary Haines.

Rick and Mary Haines.

In 2000, Mr Haines, his wife Mary and Marissa returned the visit, coming to see the Browns at home, and in 2006 there was another meeting in America.

In 2007 Mr Brown even flew across for a weekend for Mr Haines’ surprise 60th birthday party.

Now he is a keen supporter of health charities, including the Bubble Foundation and Wear Yellow for Seth campaign. And he has urged more potential bone marrow donors to come forward.

He said: “We need as many donors as possible. These days it is a very simple procedure. There is a mouth swab or a stick test, and the donor procedure is similar to donating blood and takes just a few hours.You could make a difference to saving someone’s life.”

To join the Anthony Nolan register, visit www.anthonynolan.org

Bride to be Marissa Haines with her fiance Dustin.

Bride to be Marissa Haines with her fiance Dustin.