Belfast Telegraph

Amazing sister act as Gemma donates her bone marrow to Amy

By Joanne Sweeney

A brave 12-year-old is helping her big sister fight a life-threatening disease by becoming one of Northern Ireland's youngest bone marrow donors.

Gemma Uprichard will donate blood stem cells to help replace the bone marrow of her eldest sister Amy (17), who is in remission from acute myeloid leukaemia.

The plucky Lurgan teenager is delighted her youngest sister is helping her in the next stage of her fight against the disease.

"Gemma has just turned 12 so becoming a donor is quite a big thing for her to take in," said Amy.

"She was a bit scared at the start but now she's come round to the idea and has already got me roped into buying her loads of things."

The talented ballet dancer and beauty queen has recently finished her fifth course of chemotherapy since being diagnosed with cancer of the blood in May 2013 when just 16.

Despite bravely coming through four rounds of chemo, Amy suffered a relapse in June and undertook another course before being told she was in remission two weeks ago.

The Lurgan sisters are now waiting for the final all-clear for tests on Gemma before going through their joint procedures over the next few weeks.

The Banbridge Academy students will have their procedures done in separate hospitals – Amy at Belfast City Hospital's Cancer Centre and Gemma at the Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.

While Gemma is expected to enjoy a relatively quick recovery, Amy has been told it could take up to two years before she is fully recovered and back to her normal self.

However, she is optimistic about the outcome of this potentially life-saving procedure.

"I'm not nervous. I just can't wait to get it started. The sooner it starts, the sooner it's over," Amy said.

"I still hope to finish my A-Levels this year and if I do well enough, I will take a gap year to myself before maybe going to uni."

The last 16 months has been very challenging for Amy's parents Sarah and Stephen Uprichard and their middle daughter Hannah (15), who also attends Banbridge Academy.

Mrs Uprichard said that it was Amy's positive attitude to her illness that was keeping them all going.

"We are all coping well because she is pulling us along. Amy tries to treat her illness like it's just a flu. She's just that type of person, but you have to remind her on occasions that what she has is serious," she said.

"Amy won't let anything stand in her way and the more that people ask her to do, she'll say: 'Yes, I'll do that'. She was always like that but now she just takes life for what it is and just goes for it."

The family was relieved to find out that Gemma was a perfect sibling match for Amy last Christmas Eve.

Mrs Uprichard said: "It's the ideal scenario to have a sibling donor. We just kept saying that if there was going to be a match, it would have been Gemma as she's just a mini-Amy – a real mini-me."

Yesterday, the teenager was getting a dress fitting as a prize from recently winning the 'teen' title at the UK/Ireland Ultimate Beauty competition in Newry.

Amy also fulfilled a dream of dancing as a soloist in the Sleeping Beauty ballet at the Grand Opera House last November.

Factfile

Donor hematopoietic stem cell transplantation - better known as bone marrow transplantation - is increasingly being used to treat a number of serious blood disorders, including acute leukaemia and some types of lymphoma.

Bone marrow is rarely taken from the donor as the stem cells are harvested from their blood and then infused into the recipient so they can migrate into the patient’s bone marrow.

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