Warrington teenager needs lifesaving stem cell donor

A champion junior runner from Warrington needs to find a stem cell donor to treat her leukaemia.

Fifteen year old Kelly Chadwick is used to gruelling physical challenges as a successful competitive runner with the Sale Harriers.

But after being diagnosed with leukaemia in April, Year 10 student Kelly has now put her training on hold as she has been told she will need a lifesaving stem cell transplant within the next few months. Now, Kelly and her family are working with the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan, searching the worldwide registers for a donor whose tissue type matches Kelly’s, and who is willing to donate their stem cells to save her life.

But the search is made more difficult due to Kelly’s mixed race background. Kelly’s mum Jen Johnson is black British while her dad Phil Chadwick is white British, which means Kelly is three times less likely to find a ‘perfect’ match, due to a lack of black and mixed race donors on the register.

Kelly, who competes in long-jump and sprinting, and recently won Bronze in the English Schools Championships, was diagnosed with leukaemia in April this year. Kelly’s dad Phil recalls: “Kelly came down with a chest infection and was feeling very sick after food. The doctor told us it was just a stomach bug. But then she started sleeping in the afternoons and was even too fatigued to go training – that just wasn’t like her.

“One day she just walked out of the lounge and collapsed. I took her straight into hospital and after doing some tests they told us the news; she had acute myeloid leukaemia. When they said they needed to take her to the teenage unit at Alder Hey right away, that’s when it hit home.

“It was hard to accept that she had cancer because she is so fit. She loves to eat healthily, but now they’ve told her she needs to get her weight up so she’s eating McDonalds and KFC, which feels quite ironic. She’s also still trying to do whatever exercise she can in between chemotherapy sessions. The good news is that we’ve been told that her fitness will make it easier for her to cope with the treatment.”

Kelly has just finished her third round of chemotherapy at Alder Hey in Liverpool and was told last week that she would need a bone marrow transplant within the next few months. Phil said: “We’re all beyond proud of Kelly and how she’s coped. Even now, she’s keeping really positive and is so mentally tough. She’s used to ‘routine routine routine’ when it comes to training, so now she’s just getting on with her new routine which is regular hospital stays, chemotherapy and visits from her schoolfriends, which help keep her spirits up.

“Training is on hold this year, which is really hard for her as she’s missing the English Schools Championships this weekend and she was aiming to work towards getting the qualifying time for the World Youth Championships next year - but the focus for now is just to save her life.”

If no match is found on the registers within the next couple of months, one of Kelly’s parents will be able to donate to her (Phil is a 6/10 match and Jen is a 5/10 match), but the doctors are holding out hope for a selfless stranger who is a closer match. That person is most likely to come from a similar ethnic background as Kelly.

“Until now, I had no idea about the lack of donors from mixed race backgrounds,” said Phil. “I’d heard there were millions of donors on the worldwide registers so assumed we would be fine, but the pool of potential donors from black, Asian and mixed race backgrounds is actually very small. Kelly’s life is on the line and we just want to do everything we can to encourage young people from these backgrounds to join the Anthony Nolan register.”

Alice Hirst, Regional Register Development Manager at Anthony Nolan, said: “Kelly is an inspirational young woman and somewhere out there, there’s a potential lifesaver who could help give Kelly a lifeline by donating their stem cells.

“What many people don’t realise is how easy it is to join the Anthony Nolan register – it simply involves filling in a form and providing a saliva sample. If you’re one of the privileged few who goes onto donate, 90% of the time this will now take place via an outpatient appointment which is similar to donating blood.”

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