Mum’s joy at ‘chance of life again’ as hunt for stem cell donor yields match
A Belfast mother-of-three battling a rare form of leukaemia said she cried "tears of joy" after hearing that a life-saving stem cell match has been found for her.
Sharon McCloskey (43) was given a leukaemia diagnosis in February after complaining of tiredness to her doctor. Her family and friends then began an epic 'Save Our Sunflower Campaign', appealing to the Northern Ireland public to sign up to donate their stem cells in an effort to save her life.
Despite the fact that she was told that finding a match was very rare, yesterday Sharon got the miracle she prayed hard for.
"It is just fantastic," she said. "I just can't believe it. I haven't stopped crying all day. But it's all good. It's all happy tears.
"I am in the City Hospital today getting chemotherapy and I was down getting an x-ray. When I went back up to the room I had a missed call on my phone. It was Dublin calling and I don't know anyone down there so I thought it was the hospital phoning me. I thought that it must be bad news. I rang it back and then I hung up because I was on my own and if it was bad news then I didn't think I would be able to talk to them.
"I got scared. I phoned my husband Alan and I asked him if he got a missed call too, and he checked and he did. So I knew then it was them. He rang them and it was engaged. My nerves were wrecked.
"He eventually texted me to say that he got through and did I want him to tell me now or wait until he came to the hospital. I thought that didn't sound too good.
"So I sat on the edge of my bed with one of the other girls here in the ward. And we were so nervous. And he came in the door with a big cheesy smile on his face and he said 'you got a nine out of 10 [match], Sharon' and I just couldn't believe it. I started to cry. I wasn't expecting that at all."
Sharon says that a full match would be a 10 out of 10, as would be the case if stem cells were from a sibling. She said it is a "true miracle".
"A nine out of 10 is the closest I'm going to get," she said. "After being told that I have little chance worldwide of getting a match. I don't know anything about this person who has saved my life. I have just been told that I have to go down for a consultation in Dublin.
"I have just done my third chemo in the City Hospital and I will be here for another couple of weeks still until my bloods start to come up. I have to go to Dublin on August 15 for a consultation and, all being well, they are going to start me on the really intense chemo on August 25. Then I'll be getting the stem cells on September 3.
"I can't believe that this has happened. I would never have thought that it would come to this. You always hear of these things and think 'God love that woman, she never got anyone in the end', but to get that news that it worked, it's amazing.
"I have a chart beside my bed where I record my temperature and things. I had a high temperature this morning and I put a sad face beside it. But then this afternoon I was filling it in and put 'I got a donor' and a smiley face on it. It feels amazing. I have got so many messages from people, it's just brilliant. It's overwhelming."
Sharon acknowledges she still has a "mountain to climb".
"The intense chemo I am to get is very high risk. And there is a graft versus host disease to contend with, which is when the stem cells belonging to someone else go into your body and recognise they are in the wrong body and start attacking your organs. But the doctors give you medicine to stop it. I have a big hill to climb before the easy part comes. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.
"I am just over the moon, words can't explain how I feel at the minute. Things were looking very bad there and this is like someone has given me a chance of life again. This person has saved my life and I don't even know who they are."
Sharon said she will be eternally grateful to all who signed up to stem cell donation since her sunflower campaign began.
For details visit Save Our Sunflower Campaign on Facebook