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Sunday, 05 July 2015

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Family's plea: can you give the gift of life?

THE family of Gemma D’Arcy – the little girl who died aged six after battling a rare form of cancer – is encouraging more people to become potential life-saving bone marrow donors.

A sponsored “spinathon” at Cleator Moor will be aiming to raise money for the Anthony Nolan appeal as well as highlighting the need for local people to sign up.

Gemma, who suffered from chronic myeloid leukaemia, underwent three bone marrow transplants but died (in 1990) months later from septicaemia. Her story was featured in an ITV docu-drama Fighting for Gemma after the family claimed that radiation from Sellafield was to blame for her illness. In a High Court test case, a judge found that there was no proof of links between the childhood leukaemia cases in West Cumbria and radiation from the nuclear industry.

Gemma’s father, Stephen, who was her bone marrow donor, is himself recovering from a transplant last June, after his sister, Tracey D’Arcy, donated her bone marrow to him.

He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma two years ago, on his 50th birthday. Despite chemotherapy treatment, it was decided he required a bone marrow transplant. Tracey was subsequently discovered to be a 100 per cent match.

“When Gemma had her transplants, the treatment was in its infancy,’’ Stephen said. “Since then the technology has moved on.’’

Seven months after the transplant, he has developed 97 per cent of his sister’s bone marrow, but his medical staff want it to be 100 per cent. He is slowly recovering and is able to “potter around’’.

“At Christmas I told Tracey it was the best present she could have given me,’’ he added. “I would like to thank everyone for their support.’’

Stephen is supporting the 24-hour spinathon on May 18 – organised by Gemma’s aunt, Nina Albertelli – which will also encourage people to carry donor cards.

Nina said: “After seeing what Steve went through, I wanted to do something to help. He is recovering well from the ordeal and things are looking positive for him.’’

The whole community can take part, she said, either by spinning, sponsoring, or be willing to be become a bone marrow donor.

“We want to encourage more people on the register because if they are a match they have the potential to save a life,’’ she said.

Around 40 teams will attend Cleator Moor Bowls Centre to try to keep the spinning wheels turning on static bikes for 24 hours.

Nina said: “The centre runs spinning classes Monday to Friday and I am very grateful to them for their support.”

Also taking part in the event is 15-year-old Mason Haley, of Cleator Moor, who himself received a bone marrow transplant 10 years ago, and his parents, Maria and Dave.

“Mason takes antibiotics every day to fight off infections but he is determined to do whatever his friends do,’’ Maria said. He is keen member of Cleator Moor Celtic U16s.

Mason received a transplant in 2003 from Stuart Perrit, who had donated a sample with a group of friends, and was stunned to find he was a 100 per cent match for the then six-year-old.

“We still keep in touch with Stuart,’’ Maria added. “It is marvellous to think just giving a sample resulting in him saving Mason’s life.

“This is why we want people to consider being on the donor list.’’

A bingo will be held on March 21, in aid of the event, at The Stump pub, Kells.

For more details email Nina on Jnina1977@aol.com or go to Facebook and search for Spinathon Cleator Moor.

A spokesperson for the Anthony Nolan charity said: “There are nearly 1,600 people in the UK in need of a bone marrow, or blood stem cell, transplant. This is usually their last chance of survival.

“Seventy per cent of patients will not find a matching donor from within their families; instead they turn to us to find them an unrelated donor.

“It costs £100 to recruit each new donor to the register, so we also need to raise vital funds to continue our lifesaving work. We particularly need young men aged 16-30 to join the register, as they are the most likely to be chosen as donors.’’

For more information on Anthony Nolan go to www.anthonynolan.org


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