Conor McNeill: Young leukaemia patient (5) to get stem cell transplant after donor found
THE mother of five-year-old leukaemia patient Conor McNeill has said she is delighted and relieved that a stem cell donor has been found.
The young boy was first diagnosed with leukaemia aged 19 months.
He was given the all-clear earlier this year but his family were told in July that his cancer had returned and that he would need a stem cell transplant.
Conor was due to start Primary 2 at St Olcan’s PS in Armoy, Co Antrim earlier this month but has had to stay off school while he receives treatment at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children several times a week.
He also has a central line so drugs can be administered intravenously while he is at home.
His mother Karen McErlean (40) said she was thrilled that a donor has been found just weeks after her story was reported in The Irish News.
"It's been so quick. It's great," she said. "All we know is that it's a UK donor but we don't know anything else about them. We need to just crack on now and get it done."
Conor is due to travel to Bristol Royal Hospital for Children in England to receive a stem cell transplant in mid-October.
He has to have eight courses of radiotherapy to kill his immune system before he can have the transplant.
"Donated stem cells will be given to him on a drip," she said.
"It just goes in within half an hour. The hard bit is waiting for the body to accept it and build it back up again.
"He'll have to be in isolation and there are a lot of strict rules (about visiting)."
But before his transplant, his family hope he can receive an experimental treatment in Oxford which will allow some of his sperm to be saved, giving him a chance to have children as an adult.
"We have to take a chance," she said. "They'll freeze his sample. They haven't got the technology yet but they are preparing so hopefully when he wants kids he'll have access to that sample."
Ms McErlean, who also has an 11-year-old daughter, and her partner Ciaran McNeill will have to stay with Conor during his treatment in Bristol.
Treatment could last between six weeks and three months, depending on the success of the transplant.
"They have advised that both of us need to be there because it is quite tough going," she said.
"My sister (Nuala) hopefully is going to move into my house. She and my daughter (Grace) will get on well."
Ms McErlean said she hopes that she and her partner can stay close to the hospital in a house run by a cancer charity but the details have not yet been finalised.
"Neither of us will have an income," she said. "I think the NHS will cover a good percentage of our costs while we're away but we'll still have bills coming in and then Christmas."
The family has raised thousands of pounds for cancer charities since Conor was first diagnosed.
Friends have now set up a fundraising page to help Conor's family.
Donations can be made via www.gofundme.com/f/conor-mcerlean-treatment