Adventurous Jaakko Lahtinen became a lifesaver
One ordinary day, Jaakko Lahtinen, 24, found a letter waiting for him at his home in Tampere. The letter was written in English, and there was no signature. The letter started with the words:
"My new birthday was March the 4th. I am a new person and I have a new life. You've committed the grandest act imaginable".
Only a month earlier, Jaakko Lahtinen had donated stem cells at the Meilahti Hospital in Helsinki to an unknown patient living somewhere in the world. He was told that it might take a year before he will find out how the patient is feeling. It was a complete surprise, then, that just after a few months, the patient had been released from hospital and written the letter to share the news.
"Yes, I shed a few manly tears," says Lahtinen.
"This may lead to something cool"
About a year and a half ago, Lahtinen saw an ad for the Stem Cell Registry. In the ad, comedian Sami Hedberg encouraged people to join the Stem Cell Registry. The Stem Cell Registry of the Finnish Red Cross Blood Service contains the details of people who have volunteered to donate blood stem cells to patients that need them. A stem cell transplant is used in the treatment diseases such as leukaemia. Stem cells are often the patient's last hope.
"I thought Hedberg was onto something good here, and I ordered the registering package from the Blood Service straight away," says Lahtinen.
Lahtinen runs his own company, working with content production and social media marketing. He is interested in personal growth and likes to read books on the topic and participate in training courses. His other hobbies include jogging along the Pyynikki ridge and roller-skating.
"I am adventurous and often seek new experiences. And I saw this as one. At that point, I didn't think I would actually be donating my stem cells soon.
Six months later, in autumn 2016, Lahtinen received a text message: there was a leukaemia patient, and his stem cells might be suitable. The Blood Service was waiting to hear from Lahtinen.
"It was an amazing feeling. I remember thinking that this might lead to something really cool," Lahtinen says.
The donation of stem cells is voluntary, even if you have already joined the registry and are a suitable donor. During the process, Lahtinen was asked several times, whether he was sure he wanted to be a donor.
"I never thought about backing down once. I am an empathetic person, and I saw this as an opportunity to help. I thought about the patient and how they must be feeling. The doctor told me it was an adult woman. The idea of helping her felt good.
Promoting the registry in the sauna
Stem cell donations are done at the Meilahti Hospital in Helsinki. As with Lahtinen, in around 80% of donations, the stem cells are collected from the blood circulation. During the week prior to the donation, the donor is administered growth factor injections. Due to the injections, the stem cell volume in the bone marrow increases and stem cells start to transfer to the blood stream. This means that a donor will stay at a hotel for a week or so, and visit the hospital on four or five days.
"The donation was scheduled for a Thursday. I was just waiting for it and taking it easy. On the previous day, in the hotel sauna, I told an unknown man where I was going. Perhaps I also encouraged him to join the Stem Cell Registry.
On the day of the donation, Lahtinen arrived at the hospital half an hour early. The nurse talked him through the day and then it was time to start the donation.
"I lay there for six hours with my arms straight. All in all, it was easy, there were no problems," says Lahtinen.
"When they let me go, I felt giddy and took a taxi to the Kamppi station. Then I headed home. At home, I got on with my normal life. The donation was on my mind often, though. I thought about the patient and wondered where the cells had gone".
Contact continues with letters
"I have been well and I lead a busy life. I am returning to work and planning to travel on my summer holiday. In my spare time, I enjoy hiking and other outdoor activities with my dogs. I want you to know that every day, I think about you and how you saved my life. I am grateful that you decided to be a donor".
The donation of stem cells is anonymous, i.e. the donor and the patient are not provided any personal details. For now, Lahtinen and the patient can only communicate through letters conveyed by the Blood Service. Lahtinen plans to write back, now that the contact with the patient is active. Lahtinen would like to know who the patient is, if the patient agrees.
"I would like to stay in touch, and perhaps even meet her. If I met her, I would give her a hug and tell her that I am grateful for the opportunity to help. For me, the purpose of life is to help others".
Text and photo: Anna Kaipainen