11 year-old Harry has thanked a total stranger for giving his little brother a second chance of life, by offering to donate their stem cells later this month.
The Branthwaite family, from Bolton, are calling for more people to sign up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register after finding out their toddler Freddie, who desperately needs a stranger to save his life, has found a match. His big brother Harry shared some touching words for the stranger who will become Freddie’s superhero.
Harry says, ‘Even though I don't know who you are or where you live, you have saved my brother I cannot thank you enough. I hope to meet you one day and give you a big hug.’
Sixteen month old Freddie Branthwaite had recently been diagnosed with a rare bone marrow condition called severe aplastic anaemia, in which the body's bone marrow fails and stops producing new blood cells.
Following his diagnosis, little Freddie has undergone regular blood transfusions but the family were told his best hope of a long term cure is a bone marrow transplant. Harry was tested but sadly he was not a match.
Freddie’s mum, Laura Branthwaite, 37, says, ‘Harry absolutely dotes on Freddie; he loves having a laugh, playing and giggling with him. When Freddie is having a tough time with treatment Harry is the only one to make him smile.
‘Harry was really keen to help his little brother and was so disappointed he wasn’t a match. He really hoped someone else would step in and help Freddie and thankfully they have, we’re all so relieved.’
When tested there is a 25% to 30% chance of having the same tissue type as a sibling. With Harry not being a match, this meant that Freddie was reliant upon a stranger to donate their bone marrow or stem cells via the Anthony Nolan charity.
Anthony Nolan has been saving lives for four decades by matching remarkable people willing to donate their bone marrow to patients in desperate need of a transplant. Every day, the charity gives three people like Freddie the chance of life.
‘Because of Freddie’s age and the fact that he has no white blood cells, he is left very susceptible to infection which is dangerous for him, so we needed a match very quickly,’ said Laura.
‘When we noticed he wasn’t well we didn’t have a clue it would be anything as serious as this. It all happened very fast; I’d never heard of the condition or bone marrow transplants, but the doctor told us it wasn’t leukaemia but it could be just as severe.’
Freddie has been through more than most in his short life - after being born eight weeks early, he spent four weeks in Bolton hospital. After finally arriving home, Freddie was doing well. The family enjoyed their first holiday together in Rhodes but when they got home they noticed he was very pale and tiny purple spots appeared his skin. A blood test and a bone marrow biopsy confirmed that Freddie had the rare bone marrow condition in September.
After finding their match, the family is now preparing for Freddie’s transplant while selflessly campaigning for other families who need a donor. The family want to recruit as many 16-30 year olds onto the Anthony Nolan register as possible, and Laura’s husband Jason has even signed up for a 100-mile bike ride to raise funds for the charity.
‘You never know about how important signing up to donate is, until it happens to you or your family. To anyone thinking of signing up, I would just urge them to imagine it was their son, daughter, brother or sister who needed a transplant - and imagine how they would feel if there was someone out there to save them. You could be that person.
‘Freddie is so young, he hasn’t even started his life properly yet and a stranger might give him a future. It’s such a weird feeling to know that someone who I’ve never met, never spoken to, could potentially save our son’s life.’
Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development at Anthony Nolan says, ‘We are so pleased for Freddie and his family that, after going through so much, they have found their match. It’s so inspiring to see Harry, one of our youngest campaigners, spreading the word along with his parents about getting more people onto the register.
‘Sadly there are many myths that surround stem cell donation. To sign up, all you have to do is fill a simple online form and provide a saliva sample. If you are match for someone, donating is usually done through a very simple procedure which is very similar to giving blood.’