'It didn’t matter how little or sick I was, I always felt like a giant with the rugby team'

When he was just five years old, Alex Hannard was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder - and found support in local rugby legends the Templars, and Harlequins RFC. Eight years later, after a stem cell transplant from a complete stranger, Alex talks about how rugby stars have shown their generosity, kindness and decency.
October 1, 2015
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By Alex Hannard, 13 years old

For most of my life, I haven't been able to take part in sport and I’ve found it really difficult to fit in with other kids at times because of my illness.

When I was five, I was one of only 300 people in the country to be diagnosed with a serious illness called CGD, which made me feel poorly all the time.

My blood cells couldn’t fight infections, so I couldn't join in with things – I couldn't go outside when the grass was cut, I couldn't go on playgrounds that had bark chips or near leaves, because of the fungal spores. I couldn't go camping or into caves or on building sites – I basically couldn't do anything fun! People at school didn't really understand, they just thought I had allergies. I was stuck in the house most of the time and I played on a lot of computer games, when all I wanted was to be outside with my friends... Playing sport and having fun!

My mum and dad love rugby, and when they introduced me to it my life changed! Some of the best times I had, before my stem cell transplant, were with a Rugby 7's team called The Templars.

The Templars always invited me to watch them play and even though I was too sick to take part in sport, they always made sure they involved me. Be it throwing a ball around, teaching me the rules or team huddles.

The players sent messages to me from all over the world during my treatment and even visited me in hospital. They let me be their team mascot and I got to run them out at Twickenham, which was amazing!

They called me the Littlest Templar and said I deserved to be a Templar because I  never gave up and was so brave. They really helped me feel like a winner when things were bad.

A life-changing match

Last time the Rugby World Cup was held, we were looking for a donor with Anthony Nolan. We had to find a total stranger with the same tissue type as me, who was willing to donate their stem cells to save my life.

It's amazing how much my life has changed since then. When I was nine, Anthony Nolan found me an amazing stem cell donor and I was able to have a stem cell transplant. I’ve made a really good recovery and it’s cured my CGD!

Now, during this World Cup, I have my own rugby ball and I can actually play rugby (not very well!) and I am at back at school trying really hard to be sporty (I'm definitely a better supporter than player...!)

Last year, Anthony Nolan was collecting funds at a Harlequins match on Good Friday, and they invited me and my dad to come along to the match at Twickenham Stoop. The game was brilliant and it made my day to meet some of the players including Paul Sackey, and I had a look around the changing rooms which was really cool.

The Harlequins stood shoulder to shoulder with me and my Dad and helped to boot blood disorders and blood cancers to the side-lines. I’d call that a VERY Good Friday!

Rugby is very special to me because the spirit of rugby, and the support of the amazing rugby community, helped me to believe that anything was possible, no matter what. It didn't matter how little or sick I was, I always felt like a giant with the rugby team.


How you can help

At Anthony Nolan, we urgently need more young men to join the donor register so that more people like Alex can be cured. This Rugby World Cup, be a hero – sign up at www.anthonynolan.org/register