Northern Ireland mum thanks German bone marrow donor who saved son
A Northern Ireland mother has thanked a selfless German woman who made a bone marrow donation, helping to save her son's life.
Mairead Campbell's son Patrick (13) was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma, and six years ago went through a bone marrow transplant thanks to donor Laura Kempken from Cologne.
Back in February Mairead, a nutritionist and naturopath at CE Health in Crumlin, Co Antrim, contacted the Anthony Nolan Trust to get details of Patrick's lifesaver.
She longed to contact the donor but was warned she may never receive a reply. She sent the email thanking Laura for giving her son the gift of life.
Within minutes Laura, a media and culture student, replied to the email saying she was pleased to hear from Mairead as she had always wondered who had received her bone marrow.
It read: "I am really made up to hear from you. I always wanted to know. I'm pleased you contacted me. You didn't need to thank me."
The pair exchanged emails and hope to meet up one day so Mairead and Patrick can thank Laura in person.
"I don't think Laura knows just how much she means to me," said Mairead. "When I got the email I was really made up. I was warned I might never get a reply. I could not stop crying. After all, she saved my son's life.
"I said if she is ever in Ireland to call me and we will meet up and she said if we are ever in Germany to let her know."
Patrick was five when he was first diagnosed with the aggressive cancer in 2009. He had been suffering from a persistent cough and complained he found it hard to breathe.
Mairead, a mother-of-three, noticed his head looked puffy, and worried he was asthmatic took him to the emergency department at Lagan Valley Hospital in Lisburn.
Patrick was quickly transferred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast where tests showed he was suffering from non-Hodgkin T cell lymphoblastic lymphoma.
Mairead said: "It was so shocking. Patrick was never a sick child. He had only the odd cold or bug but nothing more serious than that. I never thought a cough could have been so serious. He only had the cough a week but I noticed with it he found it hard to sleep or lie down. He was restless and often sat up in the bed."
Mairead was told the tumour was pressing against his windpipe so Patrick was put into a deep three-day coma to allow the steroids to reduce it.
"I sat at the end of the bed just crying and praying that he would be okay, it was a terrible time for us all," she said.
Patrick was later given six bouts of chemotherapy and the tumour soon disappeared. However, two years later, devastating news was to follow. On his seventh birthday on August 18, 2011 Patrick jumped onto Mairead's bed to give her a hug.
Her heart sank as she touched her son's neck where she felt three large lumps and knew the cancer had returned.
This time she was told her son had only a 10% chance of survival. She was told the tumours were very aggressive and that if they decided to wait for a transplant a 10 out of 10 match was needed.
They were also planning to try a new type of chemotherapy.
"I just thought what if Patrick was among the 10%," added Mairead.
So she decided to wait for a bone marrow match to be found, and even moved the family to Bristol, waiting on the call.
And in January 2012 a donor was found and it was a perfect match.
Patrick went to Bristol's Royal Hospital for Sick Children for the transplant.
He was given chemotherapy and radiotherapy to break down his immune system and had to stay in bed.
The transplant was carried out on January 20, 2012. All went well and after just six weeks Patrick was well enough to return home.
"We were just so lucky to get the 10 out of 10 match," added his mum.