14-year-old Harrison Walch from Aston is a typical teenage boy. A huge football fan, Harrison plays at right back for his local team and is an avid supporter of Sheffield United. Like most other teenagers, he enjoys playing Xbox online, and loves to be outside – especially when walking his French bulldog Leo.
But Harrison’s whole life was turned upside down in April after he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). A build up of abnormal cells in the blood, Harrison is no longer able to do many of his favourite things until he finds a donor for a still cell transplant.
Anthony Nolan is a charity that works to save the lives of those with blood cancer. Founded in 1974, the charity uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer patients in need of transplants – giving three people a day a second chance at life.
Harrison’s family are calling for more people to sign up as potential stem cell donors to Anthony Nolan’s register, after being told that there is currently no one on the stem cell donor register who is a perfect match for him.
Harrison’s mum Nickie recalls the difficult period leading up to his diagnosis. ‘One day I spotted a bruise on his leg that Harrison hadn’t noticed,’ she says. ‘We initially put that down to him being a growing teenage boy who loves playing football. But, later, more small bruises appeared, and I asked if he had been messing about at school.
‘I remember we went for a long dog walk, and Harrison was struggling to cycle. The next day he went to school, as usual, but he wasn’t himself when he got home,’ Nickie continues. ‘I looked for Harrison’s symptoms online. Leukaemia came up and I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Harrison had always been a healthy child – we would all catch colds but not Harrison. He has never even been prescribed antibiotics.
‘I called the surgery as soon as they opened at 8.30am and asked for an appointment for Harrison. They did not initially have any appointments but after explaining how concerned I was about Harrison they arranged for him to be seen.
‘Our GP saw Harrison and arranged a blood test straight away. Several hours later, he called me on my mobile to tell me that Harrison’s white blood cell count was extremely high, indicating something was seriously wrong and we had to go straight to hospital as they were expecting us.’
Harrison was admitted to the oncology ward at Sheffield Children’s Hospital. ‘Our worst fears were realised,’ says Nickie. ‘The consultant explained that it was likely to be leukaemia and that Harrison would need a bone marrow biopsy and to have a line in his chest to have chemotherapy.
‘Devastated doesn’t even begin to cover how we were feeling. I kept thinking “how could this happen to our beautiful son?” You read about it, you see it on social media and TV but you never ever think your child will be diagnosed with cancer.’
Harrison started chemotherapy to treat his AML the next day and has since completed two cycles of treatment. After his second cycle, doctors discovered that Harrison may be at higher risk of the leukaemia returning, and would need a stem cell transplant – putting new, healthy stem cells into his bloodstream. Harrison’s older sister, Daisy, was tested to see if she could be his donor but unfortunately, she wasn’t a match.
‘Anthony Nolan has checked the worldwide stem cell register and there isn’t currently a perfect match for Harrison,’ said Nickie. ‘He is a polite and friendly boy. He has taken it all in his stride and even though he understandably has some down days he tries to be positive.
‘We really want to spread the word. We didn’t know about the stem cell register, which is ridiculous – all those people, worldwide, that need help. It’s important to get our story out to raise awareness and hopefully inspire more people to sign up.’
‘Somewhere out there is Harrison’s perfect match who could help give him a second chance at life and we are doing everything we can to support his family as they search for a donor,’ says Rebecca Pritchard, Head of Register Development.
‘We want to give patients the very best chance, and every single person who joins the Anthony Nolan register has the potential to help save a life. If you’re aged 16–30 and in good general health, you can join the register online and we’ll send you a cheek swab in the post.
‘If you’re found to be a match for a patient, you could donate your stem cells and give hope to families like Harrison’s. Without you, there is no cure.’
Anthony Nolan recruits people aged 16–30 to the stem cell register as research has shown younger people are more likely to be chosen to donate, but make up just 18 percent of the register.
The charity also carries out ground-breaking research to save more lives and provide information and support to patients after a stem cell transplant, through its clinical nurse specialists and psychologists, who help guide patients through their recovery.
To find out more about joining the Anthony Nolan register, or to find our more about the different ways you can support, please visit www.anthonynolan.org/Harrison