Since February 2019, nearly 10,000 people in Northern Ireland have registered to become a stem cell donor as part of the Save Our Sunflower campaign.

The campaign group was set up by friends and family members of Sharon McCloskey from Belfast and a mum of three young boys, who was diagnosed with leukemia this year.

Working with blood cancer charities Anthony Nolan and DKMS, Save Our Sunflower aims to raise awareness of blood cancer and encourage people in Northern Ireland and across the world to join the stem cell register.

Finding a matching stem cell donor is difficult and even though there are over 27 million people on the worldwide register, many people suffering from blood cancer still can’t find a match. Two markers in Sharon’s blood tests show that her chances of a match are lessened due to the rarity of her illness.

Sharon’s brother John Whyte from the Save Our Sunflower campaign group said;

“Only 2% of people from the UK are on the stem cell register so it’s so important for us to encourage more people to sign-up to the register to help save a life.

“This campaign is not only for Sharon, it’s for everyone suffering from blood cancer in Northern Ireland and across the world that need to find that one very special stranger who will be their lifeline.”

Become a life saver today and register to be a stem cell donor by visiting (for ages 16 – 30) or (for ages 17 – 55).  Once registered, a swab kit will be sent to your address to complete and post back. The charity will then analyse your tissue type and add your details on the stem cell registry.

Anyone interested in finding out more or registering face-to-face can also attend one of the up-and-coming stem cell swab registration events being organised by the Save Our Sunflower campaign;

  • July 11, 10am – 12noon. Autoline Insurance, Newry.
  • July 20, 7pm. Shields Bar and Restaurant, Co. Armagh.
  • July 22, 5 – 8pm. Bodyworx Gym, Warrenpoint.
  • July 23, 10am – 12noon. Downpatrick Council Buildings
  • July 23, 1pm – 3pm. Downpatrick Leisure Centre
  • July 23, 10am. Newry Council Buildings.
  • July 23, 8 – 10pm. Mount Eagles Community Centre, Belfast.
  • July 29, 5- 9pm. Tobin Youth Centre Moortown, Cookstown.
  • July 30, 10am – 5pm. Sean Holywood Art Centre, Newry.
  • August 10, 9am – 6pm. St. Peter’s GAC, Lurgan (for age 16 – 30 only).
  • August 17, 11am. Victoria Square, Belfast.
  • August 24, time TBC. Park Centre, Belfast.
  • August 24, 9am – 5pm. Richmond Centre Derry
  • August 29, time TBC. Tullymore Community Centre, Belfast.

For more detail on the Save Our Sunflower campaign as well as up-and-coming events visit

Stem cell collection methods

Around 90% stem cell donations are collected from the donor’s blood stream. This non-surgical procedure takes around 4 – 6 hours. Collecting stem cells from a donor’s bone marrow is only used in 10% of cases and this is carried out under general anaesthetic so no pain is experienced. This procedure takes 1 – 2 hours and most donors can return to regular activities within a week.

Both Anthony Nolan and DKMS offer financial assistance for travel and loss of earnings for stem cell donors.

Heather Black

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