Family plea for bone marrow donors

The family of a young man suffering from a rare form of leukaemia are making an urgent appeal for potential bone marrow donors to come forward.

WHEN Lee Rofix tells of the moment he had to find his 20-year-old son on a Friday night out and tell him he had been diagnosed with leukaemia, he apologises for the lump in his throat.

“It was just the most horrendous thing I have ever had to do,” he says.

In the last two months Mr Rofix and his wife Toni have been to hell and back as their son's battle against acute leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells, has overtaken them.

Oliver, a fit, sporty young man, was recovering from unrelated glandular fever, a common virus in young people, when he went to his doctors' surgery in Otley for a routine blood test on the morning of September 9.


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Only eleven hours later, while Oliver was out with his friends enjoying a normal Friday night, a doctor knocked at his parents' door in Clopton.

The doctor told them the routine blood test had shown their 20-year-old eldest son had leukaemia and he would immediately need to be taken to hospital.

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Within a week, they had experienced an unfathomable nightmare, seeing him visit a fertility clinic to have his sperm frozen in case the intensive chemotherapy made him sterile, and then starting the gruelling treatment.

Tests showed Oliver had primitive acute leukaemia, which only affects three in every 100,000 people. Consultant Dr Nick Dodd, head of the haematology department at Ipswich Hospital, only sees about nine cases of this type of leukaemia a year in Suffolk, mostly in older people, with only about one or two cases affecting teenagers.

But Oliver's case also seems to show what appears to be a very rare chromosome abnormality in the leukaemia cells, which is now being investigated internationally. Its implications - good, bad or indifferent - are still unknown.

Dr Dodd said: “We do not know what it indicates. It is reported in only three other cases world-wide ever.”

Oliver has been responding “extremely well” to the chemotherapy. After completing his first week-long course he was in remission, described as a very important step, and he has now finished his second week's worth. He is currently at home but is being closely monitored by the hospital three times a week.

However, his doctors have said his best chance of a cure would be with a bone marrow transplant, although he can still be cured without one.

Oliver's brother, 15-year-old Reece, has already been tested to see if he was a bone marrow match - there was only a one in four chance that he would be - but unfortunately he was not. His mother and father are older than the age range of 18 to 40.

Now the family are appealing for volunteers to come forward to register as bone marrow donors in the hope a match can be found for their son.

The Port of Felixstowe, where Oliver has an apprenticeship as an engineer, has stepped forward to help and is holding a session for staff to register with the Anthony Nolan Trust, which matches donors.

Speaking from his home last night, Oliver said: “It has been up and down with the treatment but I'm really fine. I've got to keep focussed and positive.”

It is Oliver's positive spirit, and the amazing work of the NHS doctors, throughout his diagnosis and treatment that has left his parents awestruck.

His father said: “The most incredible thing is he still has a smile on his face and still jokes. He's incredible and we're so proud of him. If it was me, I would have folded up.”

Even when he met his son, who he also described as his best friend, on that Friday night to tell him the diagnosis, Mr Rofix was amazed at Oliver's reaction.

The 20-year-old didn't even swear and just asked his father: “I'm not going to die, am I?” His father replied: “I bloody well hope not.”

Only a week before his diagnosis, Oliver, who skis, sails and is an amateur astronomer, was water-skiing off Shingle Street.

Oliver, who went to Woodbridge School, is now in a break in his treatment and doctors will assess how his body is reacting to the chemotherapy before giving him another course.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

You can register as a bone marrow donor through the Anthony Nolan Trust. For information call it on 0207 284 1234, or visit www.anthonynolan.org.uk

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