A teenager battling leukaemia is in a race against time to find a life-saving bone marrow donor.
Amy Bartlett, 14, from Nottingham, was diagnosed with the disease aged 12, forcing her to endure two years of chemotherapy.
The student was due to finish her treatment on 4 July, only to be told her cancer had returned, with a bone marrow transplant offering the “highest chance of a cure”.
A suitable match would “ideally” be found in the next two to three weeks.
Charities were forced to cancel bone marrow donor recruitment events after the coronavirus outbreak put a stop to large gatherings.
Chemotherapy ‘takes all your strength away’
Amy – once “playful, happy and energetic” – was diagnosed with leukaemia in February 2018 after she developed aches and pains in her joints.
“There's no logical explanation of why she’s got it, it's just one of those things,” said her father Leigh Bartlett, 48. “Some people get it.”
Amy reportedly told her mother Marie Bartlett, 51: “Mummy, it is okay; it’s better I get it than another smaller child.
“I am stronger and so have a better chance to beat it.”
Classed as high-risk, Amy underwent the most intensive course of chemotherapy that can be administered to a child with the disease, which lasted three months.
“She lost all of her hair, lost a lot of her strength and basically had to be in a wheelchair,” said Mr Bartlett, a boss of a bank. “She also had some reactions to some of the chemotherapy.”
Amy endured liver problems, steroid-induced diabetes and allergic reactions to the drugs she was taking.
“The first three to four months were really tough,” said Mr Bartlett.
“Slowly Amy’s strength started to come back, her hair started to grow.
“Day by day, you could see some recovery, but it’s never a full recovery because you’re constantly taking this chemotherapy. It really takes all your strength away from you.”
‘Time is of the essence’
As June approached, the family started counting down the days until Amy’s treatment would supposedly end.
“They did a test on her three weeks ago and then the following day we got the phone call that changed it all really,” said Mr Bartlett.
“They said, unfortunately, they’ve detected leukaemia has returned in her body.”
That same afternoon, Amy was admitted to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.
“They had to consider, what’s the right treatment path?” said Mr Bartlett.
“Because [the] leukaemia came back, especially while she was still under chemotherapy, the first worry is the chemotherapy won’t work anymore.
“The unfortunate reality is she needs a different path to find the solution.
“That path is a going through a bone marrow stem cell transplant. In order to do that she needs a donor.”
Amy’s brother Marcus, 18, was tested but is not suitable. Siblings are a match around a third of the time.
“We need to find a match for Amy, ideally within the next two to three weeks, so time is of the essence,” said Mrs Bartlett, a solicitor.
“Save somebody’s life,” said Mr Bartlett. “It might not be Amy’s, but it could be, you never know.
“That’s really the message I’m pushing. There’s a big misconception out there, which is you’ve got to go to the hospital, you’ve got to give blood and everything.
“The reality is it’s very straightforward. The big two, which is DKMS and the Anthony Nolan Trust, you can sign up online and they'll send you a pack through the post.
“You fill out the form, complete a swab, put it back in the prepaid envelope and return it and you’re on the register.”
Dr Mark Jesky, Amy’s consultant at Nottingham University Hospitals, added: “For children or adults whose leukaemia has sadly returned, undergoing a [bone marrow] stem cell transplant offers the highest chance of a cure.
“Often these donors are volunteers as many patients do not have a suitable family match.
“Young men are particularly encouraged to register as they are the most frequent chosen donors.
“For the donor the process of donating is simple but for the patient this donation could give them a second chance at life.”
How could a bone marrow transplant cure leukaemia?
Bone marrow is soft, spongy tissue found at the centre of certain bones where blood stem cells reside.
These produce essential blood cells, like red blood cells that carry oxygen and white blood cells that fight infections.
Leukaemia stops bone marrow from functioning correctly. For many patients, the best hope of a cure is a bone marrow transplant, also known as a stem cell transplant.
In order for the transplant to go ahead, the patient and donor must have the same tissue type.
A patient’s immune system constantly checks for a protein, called human leukocyte antigen (HLA), found on the surface of many cells in the body.
The closer the HLA match between the donor and patient, the less likely the patient’s immune system will reject the new cells.