This summer, Gift of Life carried out a fundraising campaign for Sergei Gerasimov, a 16-year-old athlete from Samara. With the aid of donors and fundraisers, we were able to gather over £16,500 and pay for a vital operation, a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor. The operation was a success and now Sergei is recuperating at the Dmitry Rogachev Centre. We were able to see Sergei in the transplant ward and talk about his treatment, sports, and most importantly, being able to help people.

How are you feeling? How did you feel after the surgery? Was there anything you were scared about?

Right now, I feel good. I wasn’t afraid of the transplant itself. That’s not so scary. It’s more like a blood transfusion, where they also start by measuring your temperature, blood pressure and so on. I’ve been getting ready for a long time, since April, and though I was scared at first, it was quite a wait, so by the time of the operation itself I managed to get over my fear. And everything went smoothly, with no complications.

Sergei was regularly visited by Podari Zhizn curator in the transplantation unit 

Was the anticipation scarier than the surgery itself?

When I was lying in hospital in Samara and imagining a bone marrow transplant, I thought the doctors would be cutting me open and pulling out my bone marrow. But when I came to the Dmitry Rogachev Centre and found out how transplants really happen, it cut down on my worries a lot. It made a huge difference that the doctors here take the time to explain everything, and you can ask them all the questions you need.

You've been at the Centre for eight months now. How did you end up in hospital in Samara and find out about your illness?

I'd never been hospitalised before, and that time I ended up in one by chance, thanks to gastritis. I already had gastritis at the time, and when one day I started feeling sick, my dad took me to a hospital. I spent half a day in the gastroenterology ward, and once the tests came back and it turned out there was something up with my blood, I was transferred to haematology. They had to take four samples before they could diagnose me, and then they found out I had a severe disease.

It was my dad who told me I had acute myeloblastic leukaemia, not a doctor.

Being hospitalised isn't great. Do you have anything positive to say about the Dmitry Rogachev Centre? Or any downsides to point out, for that matter?

The downside is that I'm far from home. But there are plenty of upsides. There are good doctors and kind, understanding medical staff. You can talk to anybody, and they all make an effort to cheer you up. That matters a lot. The volunteers even organised a prom for us. They gave up huge amounts of their own time to decorate the place and figure out a programme for the evening. We all rehearsed together, and it was loads of fun. It was a night to remember—the most vivid experience of all my months in hospital. But I had enough to do in between everyday treatments as well, like reading on my tablet or watching TV. Right now, my soul is crying out for physical exercise, but I'm banned from doing sports for the time being. Sometimes I watch matches on TV.

Did you watch the World Cup?

Of course! I was watching it even before I was transferred to the transplant ward—not every match, but a lot of them. I was cheering Russia on with everything I had when we were playing against Croatia. After that I started supporting Croatia, though at first, I didn’t think they’d even make it to the quarter-finals.

How did wrestling become part of your life?

I was a football addict for a long time. I started playing with the neighbourhood kids when I was five, then joined my school team. I was planning to go pro and make that my life. That’s how I spent several years in constant training and competition matches. Eventually, I started to feel like trying something new. A classmate of mine happened to be a dedicated wrestler, and I decided to go training with him. Next thing I knew, I’d badly sprained my ankle. But I didn’t let that stop me. I kept training, only with extra care. Wrestling isn’t a team sport. It’s an opportunity to fight for yourself and for the trainer who put their heart and soul into developing you as a wrestler. That matters to me—the opportunity to set myself a goal, wrestle for it and prove myself. I’ve been trying to follow the same ideals while getting treatment.

Recovery is a long journey 

Have you already thought about what your first day back home will be like—what you’ll do, whom you’ll see?

I have a lot of plans, but I want to spend my first day back with my family. My friends are going to come visit me too. I really miss them all. My sister is staying here in hospital with me and having a loved one close by is really helping me.

So, you’ve already figured out your plans. How about a bigger dream?

My dream is to come home and to say thank you to all the volunteers, the donors—both charity and medical—and the doctors. My dream is for children to never be ill, especially with such serious illnesses. I used to dream of becoming a wrestling trainer, but with my health, as it is, that’s probably not happening. Now I’m thinking of going to a medical institute once I recover. I see now that being a doctor is tough—but you have to help people. It’s the most important thing you can do in life.

Gift of Life thanks all donors and fundraisers who helped Sergei! Together we can save more children from cancer.