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In December 1989, at the age of 32 life was good. I was happily married to Kim with two young children; Carla, aged seven and Alex, aged five. Suddenly I began to feel unwell with flu-like symptoms and began to deteriorate very quickly.
I was badly let down by my GP, who I hadn’t visited for around two years, who insisted I had a stomach bug. After several more visits over the next two weeks, I had become extremely weak, very thin, sweating badly and incapacitated. My wife called the emergency doctor out on the Friday evening, twice on the Saturday and finally once again on the Sunday. On the Monday, Kim took letters given to us by the emergency doctors to our GP, who read them with a shocked expression and told her a doctor would be round that day. When the doctor arrived it was clear that he knew I was seriously ill and rang for an ambulance to take me to an isolation ward at Rush Green Hospital. However, at the time there was an ambulance strike and in the end Kim ended up taking me there - carrying me to the car!
Following tests at Rush Green, the doctor transferred me to The Royal London Hospital at Whitechapel where I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). I asked the doctor to be with me while I told Kim, as I was unsure of how she would react to the news. However, unknown to me, she had guessed after speaking to the doctors the previous evening as she had a friend who had had leukaemia when she was young. She was upset but it was not a surprise to her. Whilst waiting to be transferred to the ward, two very close friends arrived to wait with us.
After their initial shock of the news and a couple of blood transfusions for me, they all sat about making light of the situation, telling jokes and making me laugh. Later on that evening when I was transferred to Croft Ward where I was introduced to the night staff and several other patients and waited to meet the doctors the next day. This is the first time I met Professor Newlands and although I did not know at the time, he was my big lucky break. He ran me through all the procedures and what to expect from the minute I met him. I knew he was a man you could trust and was happy to put my complete faith in him. I went on to meet all the rest of his team and all the other ward staff who were all fabulous and filled me with confidence.
It was at the hospital where we were also given the details of Leukaemia CARE as soon as I was diagnosed. My wife got in touch with them straightaway, where we were put in touch with one of their volunteers Ann Ashley who proved to be a great help.
When I arrived at Rush Green, my blood counts were rock bottom and I had 95% leukaemic cells, which they told me was as close as I could have got to shut down. In the days that followed I had a hoard of friends and family visiting me, keeping my spirits up and giving me encouragement.
After an extensive assessment of my condition, a course of chemotherapy was administered but unfortunately this first one did not quite go to plan and I had to start my second one sooner than was expected.
In the meantime, they checked my five siblings and I was lucky enough to have two which were perfect matches to enable a bone marrow transplant. Eventually my sister, Carol, was chosen. The second and third courses of chemotherapy went well but it was decided not to go ahead with the fourth one due to problems with my liver. During this period I did have several problems but did somehow manage to get over them all and began the procedure for the transplant. I was taken into an isolation unit to have the final course of chemotherapy and total body radiotherapy.
At this point I was probably at my lowest that I had ever been. I managed to rally round the night before the actual transplant when I had a surprise visit from Alvin Martin, one of my favourite players of my beloved West Ham United, which gave me a massive boost that you really wouldn’t have believed. I had a final visit from my sister who had come from Portishead the previous day, before she selflessly underwent the operation - even though she had suffered bad reactions to anaesthetic during previous ops. The bone marrow was transferred into me on the night of 7th June 1990 and I then spent four weeks in isolation which went well.
At the start of all this I would have been happy just to see my two children get to teenagers but I have been lucky enough to not only see them grow into fantastic adults but see them both marry and both have children of their own. We now have four beautiful granddaughters which is something I did not expect to see. This summer we celebrated my twenty-fifth anniversary of the transplant with a garden party with our closest friends and family, and we have remained good friends with Ann Ashley – who doesn’t stop giving.
Going through this experience was not all bad and I got to appreciate life, family and friends, got to see every game of the Italia 90 World Cup, was invited to a game by Alvin Martin to meet all the players before and after the match - which myself and my son loved. I would say that the help and support we received was a major factor in my successful outcome. At this point I owe a great debt to a lot of people who gave and continue to give us their love and support.
I would really like to thank my sister, Professor Newlands and his devoted team on Croft Ward, all my friends and family for their help and encouragement and Ann Ashley from Leukaemia CARE’s Buddy Service for her many visits which helped me understand my family’s position through all of this. Also, thanks to Leukaemia CARE themselves who provided us with invaluable information and help for which I will be eternally grateful.