Leeds family's plea for more people to register as stem cell donors

Hannah Richardson, five, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, with parents Joseph Richardson and Allison Brown. Picture: Gary LongbottomHannah Richardson, five, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, with parents Joseph Richardson and Allison Brown. Picture: Gary Longbottom
Hannah Richardson, five, who is battling acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, with parents Joseph Richardson and Allison Brown. Picture: Gary Longbottom
The mum of five-year-old Leeds girl battling cancer has urged people to sign up to become stem cell donors and help families like hers in the “heartbreaking” search to find a potentially life-saving match.

Allison Brown’s little girl Hannah Richardson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia when she was just 11 months old.

Having initially responded well to treatment, doctors discovered last year that her cancer had returned after she suffered a severe reaction to chicken pox and ended up on a ventilator, fighting for her life at Leeds Children’s Hospital.

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Sadly, Hannah also went on to lose the sight in her left eye following the discovery of a mass behind her retina.

Her acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - a cancer that affects the cells in the bone marrow - is currently being treated by maintenance cancer treatment, which involves daily oral medicines as well as intermittent steroids and lumbar punctures.

And thankfully for now, she is responding well with no signs of disease, says mum Allison.

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But while the risk of a relapse remains, so too does the possibility of a future transplant.

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Allison, of Bramley, said: “Further down the line - hopefully it’s not needed - but there is still the possibility that she might need to go down the transplant route if she does relapse.

“We’re extremely lucky that Hannah has four matches - three in Germany and one in Poland - that are 10/10 matches which is really great for us.

“But through this journey we’ve seen there are many families that are struggling and desperately looking and crying out [for donors] and having to share their child’s face to get people to join the register.

“And that is heartbreaking.

“When we were waiting to see if Hannah had a match, it was a scary thought that there’s a possibility that there may be nobody and we would be scrabbling until the 11th hour.

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“We have friends who are going through this right now and some who are still searching.

“It’s just heartbreaking that you’re having to show your child in their most vulnerable moment in the hope that someone will take pity on you really.”

Allison has joined forces with Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves in calling for people across the city to register as a potential donor with blood cancer charity DKMS.

Every 20 minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, such as leukaemia, in the UK and blood cancers are the third most common cause of cancer death.

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Yet only two per cent of the population is registered as a potential blood stem cell donor - and only 6,597 people in Leeds has registered with the charity DKMS as a donor.

Allison, who met with the MP over Zoom to share her family’s story, said she is keen to raise awareness of DKMS and for it to be easier to register as a donor, adding: “It’s just about making sure that more people are in the pool [of potential donors].”

Rachel Reeves said: “I commend Allison for bringing this compelling issue to my attention.

“Although her daughter Hannah is doing well at the moment, Allison has unselfishly found the time to raise the critical need for more blood stem cell donors for others in desperate need.

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“I will support this campaign and I’m calling for as many people as possible from our great city to register with DKMS.”

Anyone aged 17-55 and in good general health can register online at www.dkms.org.uk/register-now for a home swab kit.

If called upon as a match, there are two donation methods - around 90 per cent is through peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection which is similar to giving blood, with the remaining 10 per cent of donations taken through bone marrow collection, where bone is removed from the pelvis under general anesthetic in an operation lasting under an hour.

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