Hayley Leonard on working with bone marrow patients

Leonard is Anthony Nolan's first-ever post-transplant nurse; two more have since been appointed

Hayley Leonard
Hayley Leonard

My job is to help patients who have had bone marrow transplants to get back to how they were before - the process can take six months to a year, or even more.

This is a really new post - before it was created, I would work with patients up to the point of the transplant, but they wouldn't always realise they'd have this long road ahead of them, with no one to guide them.

They would get in contact with me or my colleagues and would often really struggle. But it was hard to give them the time they needed.

Now I talk to them about the risk of infection - they often get fatigued or have problems when the new immune system transferred with the transplant fights the old one, which can be life-threatening.

I try not to duplicate what the doctors are doing. They cover the medical aspect, so I try to talk about the bigger picture - about how they're feeling in themselves and what impact it's having on them or their children or parents.

One of the things I'm trying to focus on this year is sexual counselling after a transplant.

I try to bring it up to see if it's worth looking at.

I'm there to help them with going back to work or education, and to help them understand that they need to try to take it in stages.

It's about being involved with patients, spending time with them and seeing them get better. There will always be the point where progress is so slow that they feel they're never going to get any better; so it's lovely when they realise they're getting there. In some cases, that won't happen - a small minority of patients will never move forward and the impact of that is huge. That's the most challenging aspect of the job.

I don't try to pretend to know how they are feeling - I can't possibly imagine how awful it must be. What I do is try to use my experience to guide them to living normally again. It's not enough just to be alive - you need to really live, and it's my job to help people do that again.

Anthony Nolan is a charity that matches bone marrow donors with people who suffer from leukaemia

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