Belfast Telegraph

Antrim teacher's stem cell donor crusade in memory of pal who lost cancer fight

Karl McQuaid (right) and friend Gavin McNaney
Karl McQuaid (right) and friend Gavin McNaney

By Stephanie Bell

A Co Antrim teacher has launched a campaign to persuade people to sign up to the stem cell donor register in memory of his friend who died after a battle with cancer.

Father-of-two Karl McQuaid (39), from Martinstown, will spend the next three months trying to get "as many people as I can" to join the register as a tribute to Gavin McNaney.

Gavin (37), a gifted language teacher who had taught in St Catherine's College in his home city of Armagh, passed away in November 2017, nine months after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.

He had beaten the cancer thanks to a bone marrow transplant, but tragically, because his immune system was so weak from surgery and treatment, he died from a lung infection after catching a cold.

Gavin had been living in Dubai for just over a year, where he was a teacher and head of languages at GEMS Metropole School, when he took ill.

Former pupils from St Catherine's College in Armagh, where he had also taught, formed a guard of honour at his funeral and the school choir sang at the church service.

Last August his best friend Karl, who also teaches languages, in Sperrin Integrated College, Magherafelt, staged a gruelling fundraiser in memory of his friend, running 5km every day for 32 days.

"It was because of the overwhelming support he received during this that he decided to mount his new appeal for stem cell donors.

He said: "I ran for 32 days through towns and villages and hundreds of people, many of them strangers, joined me along the way and gave me money.

"I experienced the incredible generosity of people who were so touched by Gavin's story.

"Gavin had spoken to me about how amazing it was that a complete stranger had donated their stem cells and that theirs were a match for his.

"I suppose the campaign is a thank you on his behalf and I know he would be proud that I am doing it."

Karl has teamed up with the DKMS charity, which organises stem cell donation, and the Anthony Nolan Trust to launch his campaign through the Facebook page 'somebody's stranger'.

He plans to stage a series of sessions starting in Armagh for people to come and register through a simple swab test.

He explained: "It is such a simple and pain-free process and something which Gavin benefited from.

"Initially all you have to do is give a saliva swab test to register and then if you are matched with someone you will be called to donate, which is a process very similar to a blood test.

"Every 20 minutes someone is diagnosed in the UK with a form of blood cancer and 30% of people find a matching donor in their own family, which means 70% are relying on a stranger to donate.

"It was 'somebody's stranger' who donated to Gavin and he benefited from the kindness.

"There are only 430,000 donors registered in the UK and I think that is pretty poor, and whether I get 50 or 500 during my campaign, it will have been worthwhile."

DKMS holds a worldwide register of stem cell donors who can be matched with a patient anywhere across the globe.

The charity organises the procedure if a donor's cells are needed and the process of donating takes between four and six hours.

Karl raised almost £15,000 for Leukaemia and Lymphoma NI in memory of Gavin through his marathon run last August.

Volunteers from the charity will be joining him at his donor recruitment sessions, but if you can't make it to one of them, swab test kits can be posted instead.

Karl is also keen to hear from anyone who would like him to organise a donor session in their area.

He said: "If people contact the DKMS or Anthony Nolan Trust, a swab kit which requires a simple swab of the inside of the cheek will be posted out to them.

"All they have to do is post it back and they will be on the donor database. If they are a match for someone anywhere in the world who has a blood cancer, they will be asked to donate their stem cells in a pain-free procedure which may save a life and, of course, people may never be called to donate."

Gavin's loss is something which Karl says he still struggles with every day.

He added: "He was an incredible man who is sorely missed.

"He is in my thoughts every single day and I have lots of fantastic memories of him.

"We will never get him back but if someone else can live as a result of this campaign then that is something worth doing in his name."

Karl's first donor session is in Armagh City Hotel on May 25 from 9am to 1pm. For details of other sessions visit the 'somebody's stranger' page on Facebook or register to be a donor atdkms.org.uk or at anthonynolan.org

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