NI fans help send little Zak Brennan to US for cancer battle treatment
The family of a Belfast boy suffering from a rare form of cancer made a desperate appeal at Windsor Park last night for funds to send him to America for treatment.
Zak Brennan (4) was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma last September, just before his third birthday. It is a rare and aggressive cancer that mostly affects children and babies, but has no known cure.
After more than a year of various therapies, Zak's current treatment in Belfast will be ending early next month.
However, he has been approved for a two-year clinical trial in the US after his current treatments are finished.
His dad Gareth said the treatment in Michigan is meant to prevent a relapse, a common risk with Neuroblastoma.
"It does have a very, very high relapse percentage which carries a poor prognosis if he does relapse," Gareth explained.
"Being a very aggressive cancer, it can turn up at any time.
"The first two years is the most critical time for relapse. We really don't want this to happen, so this trial, the aim and intention for it, is to prevent that happening."
Zak will start the trial in January. It will require him and his family to travel to the US every 12 weeks. But Gareth said they are determined to do everything they can to help him.
"It's a lot of travelling, but if it does what it's meant to do and it stops it from coming back, we'll do it. It's a short-term pain," Gareth added.
"The treatment isn't free, and a fund set up to raise money to cover the cost has already reached £80,000, but more is needed. The NHS doesn't fund it, and the cost for it is £134,000. We had found this out only three weeks ago," Gareth said.
When they discovered the cost, Gareth and Zak's mum, Leeanne, launched the Zakky Brennan Fund to raise the money before his treatment is due to start on January 2.
And last night, the family turned to the legendary generosity of Northern Ireland fans during the friendly match between the team and Croatia, holding a collection at Windsor Park alongside charity Solving Kids' Cancer.
"Zak is a huge Northern Ireland fan and the Green and White Army are the best and most generous supporters in the world," Gareth said. He added that handling the fundraising has been stressful, but has given the family a sense of control.
"With Zak and his illness you feel very much out of control. We have no control over what happens," he explained.
"The doctors and nurses here in Belfast are absolutely fantastic. They're worth their weight in gold. They're brilliant. And they do keep you informed every step of the way, what's happening, what's coming next, what to expect. But... you felt helpless. So this (fundraising) was maybe a way that we could feel we were doing something, we were contributing and helping in some sort of way."
Gareth praised the community for its support, with local businesses and celebrities also pitching in. He added: "We're just remaining optimistic that we can hit the target."
For more information, visit the website, solvingkidscancer.org.uk/appeal/zakky/