A 12-year-old receiving treatment for a rare blood disorder has been the inspiration behind a fundraising appeal which has raised over £44,000 in a few short weeks for blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan.
Libby Cotts from Essex was diagnosed with severe Aplastic Anaemia in October and was told that she urgently needed a stem cell transplant from a stranger to cure the blood disorder. Libby, an active sports enthusiast, was due to receive her transplant just before Christmas but, unfortunately, the stem cell donor became unavailable – meaning the search for her stem cell hero goes on.
The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Anthony Nolan’s fundraising activity and a large number of people joining the charity’s register in early December means there is a backlog of currently around 25,000 potential donors. The charity has been overwhelmed with support and need to raise up to an extra £500,000 to add people to the register, from ordering more swab packs to analysing completed swabs in its laboratory.
Any one of the 25,000 people who have applied to join the Anthony Nolan could be a match for Libby or one of the 2,300 patients in the UK, who need a stem cell transplant from a donor each year. Libby and her family are sharing their story to inspire people to urgently donate money to the Love for Libby campaign and help to add the donors to the register.
‘It started with a few bruises during the summer holidays,’ recalls Libby’s mum Gemma.
‘Libby had been on lot of bike rides during lockdown so we didn’t think anything of it – you wouldn’t. There were also some spots on her legs, but we thought it was a reaction to s salt scrub she had tried.
‘During a hockey session at school Libby took a hit to her hand. A bruise developed extremely quickly, and the matron knew this wasn’t right. She didn’t think it should be broken but encouraged us to get it checked out.’
Libby was taken to hospital for a check-up. A blood test revealed that there was something very wrong with her immune system and the family’s world changed when a number of doctors came to pass on the results.
‘It was at that point they mentioned it could be leukaemia,’ says Gemma.
‘I couldn’t believe it; I was shocked and stunned. It was unbelievable and I started crying –I’d come in to hospital with Libby because of a suspected broken hand! Libby had been feeling absolutely fine. She hadn’t had a cough or cold since February.
‘Treatment started straight away – Libby needed platelets, and to be taken to the specialist hospital at Great Ormand Street. They sent us in a cab with a nurse, and Libby’s bloods. The next stage was for a blood transfusion and a bone marrow aspiration to find out what we were dealing with.’
Libby was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, a serious condition affecting the blood, where the bone marrow and stem cells do not produce enough blood cells. Her diagnosis meant that she could no longer take part in her favourite sports or have horse riding lessons.
‘Libby is really active and fearless,’ says Gemma. ‘Abseiling, canoeing – a snake round the neck – she loves it all. She doesn’t give up, tries new things until she’s got it.’
In addition to their fundraising activity the family have also created special wristbands which are being sold on Libby’s website, loveforlibby.org, in aid of Anthony Nolan.
‘We’re calling on people to donate anything they can to our fundraising page and spread awareness. There’s a lot going on in the world with covid but even if people can spare £2 – when it’s pooled together it will make a difference.’
Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan says: ‘Finding a match would mean everything to Libby, and her family and we’re doing all we can to find a stem cell donor to give Libby a second chance of life.
‘A perfect storm of the coronavirus pandemic, and a surge of 40,000 incredible people who have been inspired to join the Anthony Nolan register in the last month – by patients, like Libby – means that we’re in urgent need. The best thing people can do is support Anthony Nolan’s work financially. By giving anything, together we can add all potential lifesavers to the register, and give patients like Libby hope.’
Support the Love for Libby appeal at www.justgiving.com/Loveforlibby
In Libby’s case, the lifesaving stem cells will be collected from her donor’s bone marrow.