Earlier this year, young James Gomersall had a stem cell transplant to treat his CD40 ligand deficiency (a rare genetic disorder that affects the immune system).
And this September, Sophie Foster, a close friend of James’ mum Penny, took on the Morrisons Great North Run 2015 to raise vital funds for Anthony Nolan and help us raise lifesaving awareness.
In this blog, Sophie tells us more about James, and her own fundraising experience.
James’ stem cell transplant story
Penny and I met when James was a toddler. So it made me a little nervous to hear this child who was running around and into everything (as all toddlers are) had a life-threatening illness. I couldn't comprehend how his Mum and Dad coped. They had to watch what he ate and drank; who and what he played with.
I was always concerned that one of my children could make him ill, just from having a (to me) everyday tummyache or a sniffle. I felt as if I couldn’t let my children put him at risk, so on playdates I had to make sure they were feeling fine, or had to cancel.
But over the years, understanding more about the condition and medication that helped James, I became in awe of this child!
James’ condition made him excessively susceptible to serious infections, and he needed to take continuous antibiotics as well as receive regular blood infusions to provide the antibodies that his body couldn’t make.
And yet he was always so bouncy and smiley. I didn't realise many of the things he went through every day – for example, having a transfusion while sat in a rucksack as his parents went to collect James' brother from nursery.
Life didn't stop for them. They just got on, and dealt with it amazingly.
James had his transplant in July at Great Ormond Hospital. Our donor was a 38-year-old American man, and we do know that this was the second time he’d donated. Our doctors asked him if he was happy to donate via a bone marrow harvest, as it gave James the best chance of a cure - we were overwhelmed when we heard he’d agreed.
He’s currently at home building up his new immune system, having limited contact with others so as not to pass on any infections. He still has to make trips down to London to monitor his progress. His recovery isn't over yet but he is doing well. It can take up to two years for the bone marrow to fully grow and during this time there is always chance of rejection.
Meanwhile, the family’s been travelling back and forth from West Yorkshire to London, dividing their time between their boys, preparing their house so it was habitable for James. Don't get the wrong idea – the house was always immaculate! – but James couldn’t come into any contact with brick dust or possible infection. Brick dust is extremely dangerous for post-transplant kids, due to the risk of serious fungal infections, so they needed to have all their building work completed and house deep-cleaned before he came home. A bit stressful, but they managed it!
My fundraising story
I’d run the Morrisons Great North Run previously; I wanted to give back to a charity that helps people like me, as I suffer from Crohn’s disease. As a result, I’d joined as a member, and that got me a place in the run for three consecutive years.
I’m unable to be a donor due to my Crohn’s and my age, but I’d asked James' mum if I could support a charity of her choice after everything they were going through. She chose Anthony Nolan, and I got in contact.
I’m a 5'11" woman with, let's put it this way, a large frame. I’m not a natural runner; I started running 5Ks in 2011, and I don't constantly run, so it’s always a challenge! I also found training hard due to being a mum of three boys and working full-time, but I’d sneak runs in early morning and in the evenings when my boys were in bed.
If a run got too hard, I had to think about the bigger picture, why I was doing it – and really, in comparison to what James and others go through, was it that bad?
I personally know two families that have needed the help of Anthony Nolan. So I was surprised, when I was waiting for the event to start, that I was asked what the charity did. I was staggered! I thought everybody knew about the important job they do to help people survive.
It reminded me that Anthony Nolan need more people to run for them and get their story out there, to help so many more have a chance at survival.
All through the event, Team Anthony Nolan were fantastic, supportive, and there to listen to issues or worries. It was nice to feel they were genuinely checking how I was.
The tent at the end of the run was welcoming, too, and it was nice to meet everyone who works behind the scenes to fundraise for the charity. I could finally put a face to the name of the person who supported me, and say thank you for everything they do.