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Darwen man saves US youngster's life
6:00am Tuesday 24th December 2013 in News
A MAN who donated his bone marrow to a dying child 4,500 miles away has formed a remarkable bond with the eight-year-old youngster.
Rob Dickinson, 30, underwent surgery to extract a litre of his bone marrow after his cells were found to be a ‘100 per cent match’ for little Michael Peterson, who lives in Kansas City, Missouri.
Michael was diagnosed with leukaemia in 2011, given only a 20 per cent chance of survival and at one time had zero antibodies, meaning the slightest infection would have killed him.
After a successful transplant in May 2011, Michael is now cancer free.
His parents said Rob’s selfless donation had gave him ‘a second chance of life’.
Rob, who lives with wife Natalie, 27 and 22-month-old son Alfie, in Britten Street, Darwen, had originally signed up to the national register run by the Anthony Nolan Trust after reading about the Help Julie campaign in the Lancashire Telegraph.
The campaign was in honour of Julie Patefield, from Colne, who died aged 38, eight months after being diagnosed with leukaemia.
Her friends and family, led by husband Andrew, a firefighter in Burnley, set up a donor drive in 2009 which recruited more than 3,000 people to the register, including Rob.
The service manager for Child Action Northwest, said: “I was studying at Blackburn College at the time.
“The Help Julie campaign persuaded me and some other lads to sign up to the register and we went along to a donor recruitment event at Blackburn Fire Station.
“It was about two years later that I was contacted by Anthony Nolan Trust who said I had a one in four chance of being a match for someone.
“I was taken to London where there were more tests and they said I was a perfect match.
“I was then told about the operation and its risks but I decided to proceed. At that point Michael had started chemotherapy to kill his affected cells and a bone marrow transplant was his only chance of survival.”
Two months later Rob underwent a 90-minute operation under general anaesthetic at University College Hospital, London.
Seven taps were inserted into his spine and pelvis to extract the litre of bone marrow leaving him with puncture scars on his back.
Rob said: “I was fine just hours after the procedure. I played five-a-side football two days later and was back at work within a week.
“I only found out about this at a later date but there was a courier waiting to take the marrow to the airport for a Transatlantic flight as soon as it was extracted.
“On the day Michael was to have his transplant, there were a series of tornadoes in the USA and severe weather that delayed it.
“A doctor from Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City volunteered to drive 10 straight hours to ensure it arrived.
“Thankfully the transplant worked and Michael is continuing to do amazingly well.”
Strict anonymity rules meant the indentities of donors and recipients were kept confidential for at least two years.
But a few months ago that deadline passed and both Rob and the Peterson family have since exchanged emails and phonecalls.
Rob was then able to speak to the boy whose life he saved.
Rob said: “I’m so delighted that Michael is doing well. I know he’s a tough little fellow to go through what happened to him.
“I suppose the enormity of it only sunk in when my own son Alfie was born in 2012.
“Becoming a father made me appreciate more what his parents must have gone through during Michael’s illness.”
Michael’s mother, Kendra, 39, who lives with husband Joe and elder son Jacob in the suburb of Bonner Springs, Kansas City, said she found it difficult to express the extent of her gratitude to Rob.
She said: “Through all my tears of sadness to happiness, I always thought about Rob giving my baby a second chance of life.
“If we could meet Rob face to face, I would probably be a teary mess.
“I would tell Rob all about Michael’s journey and how thankful we are for him. He’s literally a part of our family forever.
“Many people don't get the opportunity of a transplant and lose their lives to cancer. I just couldn't imagine my life without Michael.
“I truly hope we can meet some day. I want Rob to meet Michael. He is such a special boy.”
Andrew Patefield, the husband of the late Julie, whose campaign originally inspired Rob to join the register said the news had ‘made his Christmas’.
He said: “I’m very emotional to hear this. It means Julie’s legacy has paid a small part in this remarkable story.
“I’m so in awe of what Rob’s done. It’s selfless and almost miraculous to be able to help someone in such a profound way.
“I would urge everyone who is able to, to sign up to the register through the Anthony Nolan Trust.
“You could so easily be able to give the gift life as Rob has done.”
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