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Family of Norfolk artist issue urgent call for more lifesaving stem cell donors

Picture of Terry

The family of a Norfolk-based artist, recently diagnosed with blood cancer, are calling for people to join the Anthony Nolan stem cell register to help patients in urgent need of a transplant.

Liverpool fan Terry Brownbill grew up in Kenya and enjoys taking his eight-year-old grandson on adventure walks. Five years ago, the 69-year-old retrained as an artist after a career as a journalist and winning championships as an amateur boxer. After having Covid-19 symptoms which wouldn’t clear up Terry experienced confusion and extreme fatigue leading his daughter, Jess, to beg his GP to call an ambulance.

Jess says: “I’d been Facetiming dad to make sure he was OK, but he just wasn't getting any better. When Dad said, “I'll be dead within days if this carries on” I begged them to send an ambulance.”

Jess drove to the hospital and arrived at the same time as the ambulance. Just an hour later, after tests, a haematologist told Terry and Jess that he had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

Terry was transferred to Addenbrooke’s hospital and started chemotherapy within days. Further tests revealed Terry’s AML was at high risk of returning after chemotherapy without a stem cell transplant. The treatment involves replacing blood stem cells with new, healthy stem cells from a suitable donor. Doctors advised the family that, because Terry is White British, there was a good chance a matching stem cell donor would be found. However, the week before Christmas Terry was told a donor had not been found.

“It was a shock,” says Jess. We hadn’t thought about the what ifs until that moment.”

Terry and Jess are sharing their family’s story to raise awareness of stem cell donation in the hope that, in future, families won’t find themselves in the same position. Anthony Nolan particularly needs young men aged 16–30 to sign up because the group provide more than 50% of all stem cell donations but make up 17% of the register.

Picture of Terry
Terry and Jess

Jess says: “We’re trying to remain optimistic. Dad's humour helps – he made jokes about his hair falling out when it happened for the first time. We try to stay positive for him.”

Terry says: “I have a wonderfully supportive family and network of friends. My daughter, Jess, saved my life by demanding an ambulance was called. Within the hour I was diagnosed with AML.”

Terry credits his children Jess and Michael, who flew to the UK from Toronto when Terry was diagnosed, as his inspiration to recover from the illness.

“It’s vital for anyone battling against cancer that they have people who let them know they love them and will step up to the plate and offer practical help and support,” Terry adds.

“When I was diagnosed, Jess sterilised her house and moved out with her two kids to live with her mum and stepdad. so that I could be isolated and closer to the hospital.

“There is not enough awareness of stem cell donation so, tragically, people are dying unnecessarily. If people knew how easy it is to save a life, I’m sure they would be very happy to sign up.”

Charlotte Cunliffe, Director of Register Development at Anthony Nolan says: ‘It would mean the world to Terry’s family for a donor to be fund so he can receive the treatment he urgently needs.

“It’s incredibly inspiring that, despite going through a very tough time, Terry is raising awareness of the need for more young people to join the Anthony Nolan register. It’s so simple to register – it involves filling out a form and providing a saliva sample. This could help patients, like Terry, find their matching stem cell donor and give them a second chance of life.”

Founded in 1974 by Shirley Nolan, Anthony Nolan was the world’s first stem cell register. Over the last 50 years the Anthony Nolan register has matched potential stem cell donors to blood cancer and blood disorder patients in need of transplants. To date the charity has facilitated more than 25,000 transplants worldwide.

People aged 16-30, who are in good general health can find out more about stem cell donation and sign up to the Anthony Nolan register at anthonynolan.org/teamterry.

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