When cancer sufferer Paul Hague was given the news that his leukaemia had returned and there was little doctors could do, it was an understandably devastating blow for both him and his family.
But friends and relatives of the 49-year-old, from Greenhill, are rallying round to encourage more people to give vital donations of bone marrow - which could have saved Paul if he had found a suitable match.
They say providing a sample is much easier, and less painful, than is commonly believed - and that actually making a bone marrow donation takes just four hours out of someone’s day.
“It could save so many lives,” said Paul’s wife Natalie, 45.
“If we can turn something so negative round it will help us a little bit. If it could help some people not to go through what we’re going through at the moment, it will be worth it.”
Paul was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in October last year. Previously fit and healthy, he ran his own gardening business, but noticed his energy levels had started to flag. When he began to feel poorly, he underwent blood tests which confirmed his cancer.
Natalie said her husband’s illness means his body does not create healthy stem cells, which are found in bone marrow and produce blood cells.
“The bone marrow starts producing immature cells, and because they’re not fully-formed they start overcrowding the bone marrow so no healthy stuff can come out,” she said. “In England we don’t have a massive list of bone marrow donors, they couldn’t find a donor for Paul.”
In March Paul was given a stem cell transplant using umbilical cord blood, which proved unsuccessful.
“It became quite chemotherapy-resistant. We expected some bad news, some people think doctors are hard but you can see it in them before they tell you.
“It shocked the doctors as well as us that Paul’s leukaemia came back. He’s now been told there’s very little chance he will survive, unless there was a miracle donor who turned up at the last minute.”
Potential bone marrow donors aged 16 to 30 can register with a charity called the Anthony Nolan Trust. This involves submitting a small sample of saliva using a special kit, which is sent back through the post.
Meanwhile people aged 18 to 49 can be included on the British Bone Marrow Registry, which is part of the NHS.
“There are so many people out there with blood disorders that need these bone marrow donations,” Natalie said.
“It’s so easy for people to donate and to be on the register. It just takes four hours out of someone’s day. Blood is taken out of one arm, the stem cells are taken out, and the blood goes back again.”
Paul has two sons from a previous relationship, Paul, 31, and Danny, 28, and two sons with Natalie - Mickey, 25, and Alex, 22.
“Our sons are gutted, it’s been horrendous. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy,” said Natalie, who praised staff who treated Paul in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital.
“I’ve never known hospital staff like them, they’re so dedicated. Paul has not stopped joking, laughter has kept us going all the way through.”
A Facebook campaign has been set up, which has attracted 1,400 supporters already, chief among them Natalie’s sister Donna Pearson, 41, from Lowedges.
“We need to get out there and make people aware of what donating bone marrow involves,” said Donna.
“We want to turn it around and give someone some hope.”
Natalie added: “It would help us in the long run. I’m only 45, I didn’t expect to be a widow.”
Bone marrow is a spongy tissue found in the hollow centres of some bones. It contains stem cells, which produce red and white blood cells, and platelets.
A bone marrow donation is a relatively straightforward medical procedure. Donated bone marrow can help treat, and often cure, many serious conditions, including leukaemia, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and sickle cell anaemia.
After the donation, and as long as the transplant procedure is successful, the new bone marrow will begin to make healthy blood cells.
Ideally, bone marrow should be donated from a close family member. However, only around one in three people have a close relative with a matching tissue type.
Two bone marrow donation registers operate in England, the Anthony Nolan Trust register, and the British Bone Marrow Registry. When a donation is needed, doctors search the registers to find someone with a matching tissue type.
To register, a small sample of blood or saliva is taken to determine tissue type. If someone is a potential match for a person requiring a transplant, they will be contacted - this can be years after registering.
The most widely used method of donating bone marrow is known as a peripheral blood stem cell donation. Injections are first administered to the donor to stimulate stem cell production, and then they are hooked up to a machine called a cell-separator. The machine collects cells from the blood, and returns the blood back to the body again, taking about four hours.