Outdoor life back on track thanks to bone marrow donor

A man is seated in a treatment room next to a piece of medical equipment. A man stands beside him.
Haematology physician consultant Dr Julian Cooney is happy with bone marrow recipient Robert Rouke’s progress since his operation 18 months ago.
September 27, 2019

As part-owner and skipper of a commercial wet-line fishing boat, Mid West man Robert Rouke wasn’t ready to slow down.

He toughed it out but decided it was time to see his doctor when he couldn’t walk more than 20 metres and small cuts - an occupational hazard – turned into ulcers.

Robert had myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood cancer, and his bone marrow was unable to produce healthy red and white blood cells, meaning they were unable to carry oxygen around his body and fight off infections.

Having just celebrated World Marrow Donor Day (external site) with Fiona Stanley Hospital’s Haematology Department staff, Robert and his family are more than grateful to the anonymous, unrelated person whose donation proved a perfect match 18 months ago.

One week off his 60th birthday on Good Friday last year Robert had a bone marrow transplant then spent eight weeks in FSH under the care of Dr Julian Cooney and the Haematology team.

Robert underwent chemotherapy to kill off his own immune system before the stem cell transplant, and had to miss out on activities like shopping trips and movies at theatres during a further eight weeks recovery in Perth, because his immune system was compromised.

Travelling from his rural property at Bonniefield near Geraldton to Perth every two months for monitoring and treatment, Robert is enjoying catching up with his four grown-up children.

He always makes time to say hello to the “wonderful” staff in the Cancer Centre and on the Haematology Ward.

“I wouldn’t be here now without them, or without the world donor registry for people who don’t have a relative who’s a match,” Robert said. “We’re big fans - one of my daughters is now a volunteer donor.”

Robert now goes fishing a couple of times a month.

Clinical Nurse Blood and Marrow Transplant Gemma White said World Marrow Donor Day was a day of recognition, to celebrate donors, both related and unrelated, and an opportunity for patients and their families to show their gratitude.

“It’s also a good opportunity to raise awareness about being a stem cell donor and the impact it has on patients’ lives,” Gemma said. “Without stem cell donors thousands of people worldwide would not get a second chance at life.”

The Blood and Marrow Transplant Program at Fiona Stanley Hospital performs approximately 35 to 45 donor stem cell transplants each year.

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