Wigan family urge more people to become bone marrow donors

Andrew Parry was just one when he died
Andrew Parry was just one when he died

A heartbroken mother and sister are urging Wiganers to help save lives by becoming bone marrow donors.

One-year-old Andrew Parry died on New Year’s Eve in 1985, just months after being diagnosed with aplastic anaemia.

Gill Parsonage and her mum Janet Erlam

Gill Parsonage and her mum Janet Erlam

People across the borough were tested, but sadly a suitable bone marrow donor could not be found for the tot.

More than 30 years later, his mother Janet Erlam and sister Gill Parsonage have renewed their appeal for people to become donors.

They have been inspired by a six-year-old boy with the same condition and hope a match will be found for him, as well as other people fighting for their lives.

“It’s probably the single worst thing that’s ever happened to me," said Gill.

More than 30 years have passed since Andrew died, but the pain has never gone away.

The tot was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia in July 1985, a rare and serious blood disorder caused by the bone marrow not functioning properly.

Sadly, Andrew died just a few months later, on New Year’s Eve, weeks before his second birthday.

Gill, who is now 42 and was nine at the time, said: “It was horrific. I think probably the biggest thing with Andrew’s illness was so little was known about it at the time.

“The whole thing now, where they look for bone marrow donors and things like that, was just coming in at the time and I was tested for Andrew and I didn’t match him.

“It was very quick, the progression of the illness.”

When Andrew was diagnosed, the family was “mystified” as they had never heard of aplastic anaemia.

Gill said: “The biggest thing Andrew suffered from was low platelet counts, which meant he was prone to bleeding. If he fell and cut himself, he would bleed out and it would be very difficult to stop it. He was also prone to internal bleeding.”

Despite needing treatment at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Gill says her beloved brother was “an absolute trooper”.

“He just stormed through it. He still had so much energy. There were so many aspects of the illness that he should have been bed-ridden, but there was something so unique about him and so brave about him,” she said.

“It didn’t enter my head for a minute that he would die. I thought he would get over it.”

Gill hoped her baby brother would be home for Christmas Day in 1985 and was delighted when he arrived on Christmas Eve.

But her mum woke her up early on Christmas Day, as Andrew had internal bleeding and needed to go back to hospital.

Doctors did not expect him to make it through the day after losing so much blood, but he survived.

However, Andrew sadly had a brain haemorrhage a few days later and died on New Year’s Eve.

Her brother’s death had a real impact on Gill and her mother Janet Erlam.

Gill, who lives in Wigan with husband Ian, said: “Me and my mum have been incredibly close. We have kept each other strong through it because there is nothing on earth like living through the death of a child.

“It made me afraid to have children. When you have gone through that kind of trauma, you fear lightening striking twice. I did eventually have a little boy, now aged four, named Andrew. I don’t know what I would do without him. I would be absolutely lost.”

Gill has bravely spoken about her brother 33 years after his death in a bid to help another boy with the same condition.

Six-year-old Marley Nicholls, from Newport in Wales, needs a bone marrow transplant to save his life.

Gill said: “My mum had drawn my attention to Marley. I think as a mum and having gone through this, you are automatically attuned to other mums. It brings it all home to my mum.”

When it was found that Gill was not a suitable bone marrow donor for Andrew, Wiganers turned out in force to help.

Gill said: “When we were looking for donors for Andrew, the people of Wigan were brilliant. A lot of people came forward to try to see if they matched him. There was a lot of local support.”

Gill joined charity Anthony Nolan’s bone marrow donor register and was involved in raising money in her brother’s memory.

She walked from Wigan to Manchester every summer as a youngster to help raise money for a bone marrow unit for the North West.

She said: “I signed up for Anthony Nolan because there is part of you, whenever you hear about another family going through this, it really hits you in a deep way because you know all too well what they are facing.

“You don’t hear of a lot of cases of aplastic anaemia. A lot of people who have spoken to me ask what Andrew died of and I will tell them and it’s very often an illness that not many people are familiar with.”

She now hopes that Wiganers will again join the donor register to see if they can help Marley or someone else who is seriously ill.

Gill said: “For a simple act of putting yourself on the bone marrow register, in the same way that people carry organ donor cards, you are putting yourself in the position where you might be able to save someone’s life.”

To find out more about becoming a donor, go to www.anthonynolan.org.