A lovely surprise for Fr Mario – his bone marrow saves the life of a Maltese mother

A noble gesture by Fr Mario Sant in 2019 translated into a pleasant surprise. The Franciscan friar, known and much loved by many for his efforts to help the sick, has now achieved hero status. This is because his gesture to donate bone marrow to a person he did not know has saved the life of a Maltese mother of three children.

Two years ago Fr Mario, one of the priests who work among Maltese patients in London, had donated his bone marrow to a patient he did not know. Fr Mario explained to TVM that “after a year of putting my name down as a donor, I was called up to donate bone marrow. They had found a patient who needed my bone marrow. Following a day of tests, I donated.”

He had described this gesture as “something which gave him great satisfaction. Not an enormous sacrifice, but one which gives great joy. A simple process that saves a person’s life.”

Fr Mario explained to TVM what had led him to decide to donate bone marrow. “There was a five-year-old boy who needed a bone marrow transplant. And they couldn’t find a donor anywhere. They continued searching and they found a donor but it wasn’t a 100% match, and it did not end well. As a result of this boy’s story, I decided to become a donor.”

His wish had always been to meet with the person he had saved. At the time he knew only she was a woman. This is when he got the surprise of his life.

Meanwhile, two years ago he met with 59-year-old Agnes Vella. The mother of three needed stem cells from bone marrow in order to be able to fight cancer.

Fr Mario told the Press Association that Agnes was being treated at the Royal Marsden hospital in London and they used to joke, and he told her he could be her donor. This as they had just called him up to donate. He explained, however, that the records showed her donor had been an Englishman, and he had been born in Malta, and they, therefore, did not think he could have been the donor. He also explained that he had made his donation at a different hospital. “We both hoped and joked about it, but we also thought this could not be possible.”

Although the friendship between Fr Mario and Agnes and her husband Francis blossomed and they remained in contact, they never imagined he could have been the one who had saved her life. Everything changed when in May 2020 Agnes wished to know who had saved her life, in order to express her gratitude. At that point, it emerged that her donor had been none other than the hospital chaplain, Fr Mario.

Bursting with happiness, Fr Maio said “it was a lovely surprise when I discovered I had been her donor.” He added that when Agnes had told him she asked to be told who her donor had been and he received an email at the same time asking whether he minded if his details would be given to the recipient, he started to link up the pieces.

“It was a beautiful moment when we discovered I had been her donor. We couldn’t believe we had travelled this special road together.” He had been near her a day before the operation to encourage her, and it transpired he had been the one who had saved her life.

Agnes returned to Malta four months after the operation. They remained in contact and spoke by phone every week. When they discovered he had been the donor, they tried to arrange for Fr Mario to come to Malta so they could meet up. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, it was only on 31 July that they met up and hugged each other again.

Agnes told the Associated Press that when she arrived in London Fr Mario told her they had called him to be a donor. She added she never imagined she would be the recipient. Agnes added that her family had wished to register in order to also donate, but they couldn’t as they did not have a UK address. Fr Mario did not have this problem, and could make his donation. “He saved my life, and I am very grateful to him.”

Mal-Associated Press, Agnes qalet meta kienet waslet Londra, Patri Mario qallha li kienu ċemplulu biex ikun donatur. Qalet li qatt ma ħasbet li d-donazzjoni kienet għaliha. Qalet li l-familja tagħha xtaqu jirreġistraw biex jagħtu d-donazzjoni tagħhom iżda ma setgħux għax ma kellhomx indirizz Ingliż. Min-naħa tiegħu, Patri Mario kellu u għalhekk seta’ jagħti d-donazzjoni tiegħu. “Huwa salvali ħajti u grata ħafna lejh”.