A Bridlington family are appealing for people in the town to register to become bone marrow donors to help their courageous 12-year-old.
Gabby Steele, who turns 13 next week, was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia at the end of October, a disease in which the bone marrow does not make enough blood cells for the body and leads to a low immune system - a condition that affects only 20-30 children a year.
Now Gabby and her mum Sharon, who herself has just completed a course of chemotherapy for cervical cancer, is urging people to register for blood donation sessions in Bridlington - and make it clear they want to be considered for bone marrow donation as soon as they get there. She said: “It is just a hurdle in life that needs to be overcome. It’s been a difficult year. I’m just recovering from chemotherapy, and then Gabby is diagnosed with this. But we get all the knowledge we can to overcome and deal with the hurdles. That helps us get over them.
“We like to look on the funny side of things, have a laugh. We’ve had our low days but it takes too much energy for us to get too down. I think we’re lucky that we can have that kind of attitude.”
Gabby has been in and out of hospital since being diagnosed, as her immune system is so low.
“Some things can be difficult. Gabby cannot go to school, she missed out on seeing her neice sing at the Spa at the weekend,” continued Sharon. “We’ve got to be careful with what we buy to eat. Yoghurts are a nightmare, everything has a live culture in it. We’ve got to make sure everything is clean and that nothing is left lying around.
“Gabby’s immune system is so low that she has to be very careful. And I’ve got to make sure she gets up in the morning to have her medicine!”
And that caution stretches to a planned re-decoration of their home on Swindon Street, who Gabby shares with mum Sharon, sister Donna and 6-year-old niece Jessica. She has three older brothers: Michael, Matthew and Sean.
With a smile, Gabby tell us how her mum’s plan to decorate will have to wait: “We can’t do it because of the dust and the fumes from paint.
“I think this window needs fixing as well but I don’t think we can do that either now!”
Former Burlington pupil Gabby is being home tutored while she can’t go to school. “I am in Year 8 at Driffield School. I’ve not been able to see my friends too much, but I keep in touch on the internet and by doing facetime on my phone.”
But Gabby is still finding ways to have fun, especially when she has to move her particularly curious cat Lopez out of the front room when we meet her: “When I went to the hospital they asked me if I had any pets. I told them it was just Lopez, so they said ‘don’t get anymore’.”
But she isn’t so impressed with her medicine. “There’s one that’s like a thick syrup. It tastes a little bit like rotten eggs!”
As Gabby is mixed race, it makes the hunt for suitable bone marrow more difficult, according to Sharon.
Sharon continued: “She will probably need male bone marrow, as it has less antibodies than female and is less likely to react badly. It is about matching. Once an initial match is made, it is looked at more closely to see if it’s good enough to go ahead.
“There is a treatment called ATG that could put Gabby into remission, but what is really needed is a bone marrow transplant.
“Donation can be done in one of two ways, either by taking blood and removing the stem cells, or by physically taking marrow from the bones which is a bit more painful but not too bad. Gabby had that done and after a couple of paracetemol she was back to her old self.”
The family are now urging people in Bridlington to go to the blood donation session at Emmanuel Church on Cardigan Road on December 9, between 2.15pm and 4pm and then 5pm to 7.30pm. There is another session on January 7 and another again on February 5. Mor information on the sessions can be found at www.blood.co.uk
“A lot of people are not on the bone marrow donation register,” continued Sharon. “So when people go to donate blood they must make it clear that they want to be considered for it before they get the pin pricks in their finger, otherwise they will need to wait until the next session.”
Besides the British Bone Marrow Register run by the Blood service, there are other organisations that aim to find suitable donors.
The Antony Nolan Trust runs a donor register, and also works with the African-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, which looks to build the number of bone marrow donors specifically of African, African Caribbean, and mixed race on the UK register.