Gavin’s life saved by a perfect stranger: “There was no option B for me…”
Gavin Hill was able to conquer his blood cancer thanks to a fellow Aussie’s generous spirit
In early 2019, Gavin and his family had just returned to their home in Bundaberg after travelling around Australia.
“Work was going well for me, I was working in flooring, and my partner, Jen finally had the opportunity to go back to Uni,” said Gavin.
“Then I started to get a bit run down and was struggling to shake a couple of infections with flu-like symptoms which I had put down to working too hard.
“I also had lost a bit of weight and was getting really bad night sweats.”
Jen encouraged Gavin to go to the GP to get checked out.
“The doctor ordered a blood test,” explained Gavin. “I had told him about the travelling we had done in northern Australia – he suspected an infection and kept asking about mosquito bites.”
“He called the next day asking me to come straight back in. From there we were directed to the emergency department of Bundaberg Hospital and we were basically flown straight to Brisbane.
“After seeing several specialists, they finally diagnosed me with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), which really didn’t mean much to me at that stage. I knew next to nothing about it and thought of leukaemia as a child’s cancer.”
“It’s funny though, I had been noticing blood cancer in the media, but I didn’t pay attention until I actually was diagnosed myself.”
Brisbane for treatment
Gavin started chemotherapy immediately at the Royal Brisbane Hospital with Jen and daughter, Dusty driving down to join him.
“It didn’t take long for us to be directed to the Leukaemia Foundation and we were offered a unit at the Patient Accommodation Village and lots of great information.
“It blew me away what the Foundation was providing for the people in our situation every day of the week.”
“I was high risk right from the start so had two full cycles of chemotherapy, neither of which worked unfortunately,” explains Gavin. “I was refractory against the chemo and the leukaemia started fighting back.
“Luckily, there was a new drug to get my levels down so I could proceed with a bone marrow transplant.”
Gavin underwent his transplant at the end of July, receiving bone marrow from an unrelated-matched donor from the Australian Bone Marrow Registry.
While almost a third of bone marrow transplant recipients find a match within their family, for the remaining 70%, the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (the Registry) matches patients to unrelated donors, both in Australia and around the world.
The Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) has a campaign to recruit 5000 new stem cell donors by September 2020 and the Leukaemia Foundation proudly supports this goal. Click here to find out more.
“A young guy from Australia was my donor – I received a really nice card off him as I was about to go into my transplant.
“As the recipient I do have to wait a year before I can get into contact. I would love to just thank him, tell him just how grateful I am and what an amazing person he is.
“There was no option B for me – if I didn’t get the transplant, I didn’t have a hope of surviving.”
Gavin experienced major complications early into the transplant, suffering side effects from some of the drugs he needed to take.
“There is a major increase in risks and complications with your organs. My major complication post-transplant was veno-occlusive disease of the liver.
“I think I was in a bad way for a while and ended up being in hospital for five weeks. It set me back a long way, but we came out on top at the end.”
Gavin, Jen and Dusty continued to stay at the Leukaemia Foundation Village while he completed the 100-day recovery.
Keeping family together
Dusty had only just started prep when Gavin was diagnosed and attended the children’s hospital school in Brisbane for most of the year.
“We were able to keep her enrolled in her old school so could just pick up where she left off when we got back home.
“She handled it pretty well, we never hid anything from her and tried to explain everything as best we could – obviously seeing me in those low times was scary for her.
“She’s much happier now and was able to head back to her old school for the last four weeks of the term.”
Gavin and his family returned home to Bundaberg late last year and slowly getting back into everyday life.
“It’s certainly put a lot of things into perspective for me,” said Gavin. “Obviously, work is an essential part of life, but I certainly don’t want to rush back in and will just be focusing on my recovery for now.”