Shirley leukaemia patient: 'I want to thank the bone marrow donor who saved my life in person'
A LEUKAEMIA patient who refused to give up when doctors told her to say goodbye to her family has paid tribute to a mystery German bone marrow donor.
Michelle Richards, of Ash Tree Way, Shirley, endured three heart-wrenching years but is now in remission thanks to a last minute donation from across the continent.
But because of European laws, designed not to dishearten those whose marrow proves unsuccessful, she does not know the identity of the man who saved her life – only that he is 58 and lives in Germany.
"We've written to each other but it's been kept anonymous," she told the Advertiser. "At the end of the year I'll find out if he wants to meet me and I would love to be able to tell him how thankful I am, though I couldn't put it into words.
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"He saved my life and I am indebted to him forever."
Michelle was 29 when she was diagnosed with a form of leukaemia which usually only affects the over-60s.
She was given super-drug Sprycel but the treatment was ineffective.
And the bad news became worse – Michelle had developed the more aggressive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
She told the Advertiser: "They took me into hospital as soon as they found out, on the bank holiday weekend that Kate and William got married.
"I was put on chemotherapy straight away so they could get rid of all the blast cells in my body so I could have a bone marrow transplant.
"I was in a little room at Hammersmith hospital for a month and a half, I wasn't allowed to leave that room because I had no immune system. Then they told me the chemo hadn't worked.
"My doctors told me to get my affairs in order and to spend some time with my family at home. I only had a 10 per cent chance of surviving at that point."
However, despite doctors telling her there was nothing they could do, Michelle did not give up, and told them to give her even more chemotherapy.
She said: "I told my doctor he needed to double my dose of chemo. I told him it wasn't strong enough, that it hadn't made me ill enough, I'd had worse hangovers than that.
"I told them I wasn't giving up and if I was going to die it was going to be in hospital fighting, not giving up at home."
Michelle then spent another one and a half months under lock down, where people had to wear masks around her because her immune system was so fragile. Her mother spent weekdays looking after her while her husband Chris, who had to work to keep the couple financially afloat, spent weekends at the hospital.
Finally Michelle was told the chemotherapy had worked and she could have the bone transplant, but then more disaster struck.
She said: "I got meningitis and glandular fever and had absolutely no immune system to fight it off, but the doctors said everything they gave me my body just took it. I really wanted to fight.
"It was a horrible time, I was very sick, I was a mess, and to see what that did to my family broke my heart. I spent eight months in that little room."
Michelle was finally able to get the bone marrow transplant and left hospital in January 2012.
Now she, along with 10 other team mates, are walking 100km from Richmond Park to Brighton to raise money for charity Leuka.
She said: "The hospital were brilliant, they didn't give up on me. I hope I can encourage more people to donate bone marrow.
"A 58-year-old man from Germany gave me mine and saved my life. Without him I wouldn't be here."
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