LONDON, April 19, 2010 -- If the European air travel ban is not lifted soon, a young child in a British hospital could lose her fight against cancer. Her bone marrow donor, the only match on the world's 11 million strong register, lives in Canada.
The precious stem cell cargo cannot be shipped from Canada until U.K. authorities allow aircraft into U.K. airspace. In the meantime, the small child lies in a hospital, waiting anxiously.
"That donor is the only person in the whole world who has come up as a match," Tracey Sands at the Anthony Nolan Trust told ABC News.
The child, whose identity has not been revealed, has been placed in isolation awaiting the transplant; her immune system has been obliterated in preparation for receiving the bone marrow. She has undergone an intense conditioning regime to prepare for the operation.
"This is a life and death situation," said Richelle Roest at the Anthony Nolan Trust, a charity that coordinates bone marrow transplants.
The young girl's donor waits in Canada for the go-ahead to undergo the necessary procedures for the transplant. Timing is crucial. "With stem cells, the main priority is time. The cells themselves will die after 72 hours."
While the child's condition remains stable, every moment counts. The operation was scheduled to take place this week. "It'll be very crucial for last type of survival conditions like leukaemia or lymphoma," said Roest.
The Anthony Nolan Trust uses volunteers especially trained to carry human tissue in plastic containers. They hand-carry tissue onto planes and never let the cargo out of their sight. They handle as many as 450 transplant packages a year, mostly traveling between Europe and North America.
Some volunteer couriers have made extraordinary journeys across Europe to bring marrow to the U.K.-- traveling by ferry, train and car.
No one at the Anthony Nolan Trust can discuss this young child's case or any others in detail, as they are bound to protect the patients' identities.
The young girl awaiting a bone marrow transplant is not the only patient whose life lies in the balance over a delayed transplant. There are 16 other critical U.K. patients awaiting bone marrow delivery. Some of these cells have been harvested and frozen, so unless they get to their recipients soon, the cells will die.