Father's gift of life

A HEADTEACHER from Suffolk gave up his job and his bone marrow to save his teenage son's life.Brian Lever, 53, was devastated when leukaemia struck at the very heart of his family in December 2001.

A HEADTEACHER from Suffolk gave up his job and his bone marrow to save his teenage son's life.

Brian Lever, 53, was devastated when leukaemia struck at the very heart of his family in December 2001.

His son Christian, now 14, was just two weeks away from his 13th birthday and had been looking forward to starting at Sir John Leman High School, in Beccles, when he was taken desperately ill.

He developed a high temperature and sickness, which was initially mistaken for a virus.

His parents were alarmed but were not led to believe it was anything serious until Christian began to struggle for breath. He was rushed by ambulance to James Paget Hospital near Great Yarmouth, where doctors diagnosed acute myeloid leukaemia.

It became clear he was haemorrhaging very badly, with bleeding from his nose and eyes – a terrifying experience for his parents, Brian and Julie, also a teacher, who live in Ringsfield, near Beccles.

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"You are completely helpless, you just have to put your faith in the medical profession," Brian said.

They were warned their son might not survive the first 24 hours. After 48 hours, there was more hope.

Christian was transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital paediatric intensive care unit in Cambridge where he spent two weeks on a life-support machine as doctors began his chemotherapy.

He was still unconscious on his birthday.

He awoke to find he had lost sight in both eyes, having haemorrhaged behind his retinas.

"It was very traumatic for all of us, particularly for him. We were told there was very little chance of his sight returning," said Christian's dad.

After five months, Christian could only make out colours and odd shapes as he regained some peripheral vision in his left eye. Then, nearly a year after he went blind, Christian was suddenly able to see almost perfectly out of one eye, to the amazement of his ophthalmologist. He still has no vision in his right eye.

"It was miraculous," Brian said.

"He went back to Addenbrooke's and for the first time, could see all the doctors and nurses who had saved his life."

Christian was allowed home after four chemotherapy treatments but he relapsed after just two weeks. His family was told he needed a bone marrow transplant. Stem cells were taken from his father's blood and Christian underwent transplant surgery on September 6, last year, at the Bristol Children's Hospital.

During all this time, the hospitals in Bristol and Cambridge were a second home for Christian's parents, who were both forced to give up work to be by his side. The family have spent the past two Christmas' in hospital.

Brian said they would have been at a loss without the CLIC (Cancer and Leukaemia in Childhood) House in Bristol – a home from home for families of children undergoing treatment at the hospital.

Julie is now teaching again at Worlingham County Primary School but Brian has decided not to return as headteacher of Reydon Primary, near Southwold, as Christian still needs him at home.

"The authorities were very good and were happy to keep my job open for me but I couldn't leave the school without a head, indefinitely," Brian said.

Christian's transplant was a success and although his immune system has not yet recovered, leaving him very susceptible to infection, he is the healthiest he has been in a very long time. He is back at home and looking forward to being able to start school and go on holiday with his family.

Brian said the future will always be uncertain but for now, at least, Christian is out of danger.

"We'd love there to be a guarantee but it doesn't work like that. Christian says he is determined to live every minute to the full now," he added.

Brian encouraged people to donate to the EADT's CLIC into Action appeal, which aims to raise £50,000 to continue funding a cancer and leukaemia nurse and a play specialist in East Anglia.

Daniel Merrells, 14, Christian's friend at Worlingham Middle School, has raised more than £600 for Addenbrooke's Hospital and for CLIC through a sponsored head shave.

Mr Lever said: "I don't know what our family would have done without CLIC.

"We are very touched that Daniel has raised such a large amount on Christian's behalf and would urge others to follow his example for this very good cause."

n To make a donation, call the CLIC into Action donation line on freephone 0800 138 3810 to donate by credit/debit card.

By cheque (made payable to CLIC into Action) and sent direct to either CLIC (East Anglia), 8 Wren Close, Thurston, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, IP31 3TQ.

Cheques/cash can be paid direct into any branch of Lloyds TSB, quoting: Account name: 'CLIC into Action', Sort code: 30-00-01, Account no: 02693685.

By credit card via the CLIC website, www.clic.uk.com/donfr.html (quoting ref: CIA).

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