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Antoinette, her daughter Marie and donor Theresa

My daughter's bone marrow donor saved her from leukemia - and now we're family

Mum Antoinette from Lancashire shares her family's inspiring story with HELLO!

Sophie Hamilton
Parenting Editor
May 3, 2024
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In 2015, the parents of two-year-old Marie received the heartbreaking news that their precious daughter was suffering from leukemia.

Devastated, the family embarked on a long course of chemotherapy for the little girl, who was treated at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and ultimately needed a life-saving bone marrow transplant.

The stem cell transplant charity Anthony Nolan worked with Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital to find a suitable match for Marie. 

Antoinette and Theresa's families
Antoinette and Teresa's families

Now five years on at age 11, she is thankfully healthy and thriving. Marie and her parents were able to meet the bone marrow donor, Teresa, 34, who lives in Germany, and a beautiful friendship has emerged between the two families.

Here, Marie's mum Antoinette, 55, recounts Marie's journey from diagnosis to recovery and tells us about the amazing bond they have with her donor Teresa…

Feeling unwell

The day Marie was diagnosed with leukemia, she woke up so unhappy and so tired. She'd been unwell for about four weeks. We'd been to the GP about six times, and they'd kept saying, "It's a viral infection, don't worry."

But on this day, she was much worse. Marie opened her mouth to take her bottle and I saw dark blood in her mouth. She was bleeding from her gum. I was frightened, terrified.

I took Marie to the GP as an emergency, and we were sent to Preston Hospital to have her blood checked. We had a horrific day because we heard they were investigating something serious. In the late afternoon, they told us the awful news: she had leukemia.

Marie had Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a type of blood cancer that starts from white blood cells in the bone marrow.

It was a big shock.

Marie during her hospital treatment
Marie during her hospital treatment

Fighting leukemia 

Marie is our treasure, a gift from God. She'd been our last chance to have a child because I was 44 and my husband was 47 when we had her. We were so devastated. Our life was upside down. 

We were transferred by ambulance to Royal Manchester Children's Hospital where they started Marie's treatment. She underwent high doses of chemotherapy for two years and eight months. It was a long journey.

Marie was a superhero. She had a tough time when she was unwell and in pain. Chemotherapy side effects were so bad: a high temperature, pains all over, tiredness and more, which made life hard. Seeing your child going through it makes it more difficult. 

There's nothing you can do as a parent; you are reliant on the doctors and hospital staff and thank god she was in safe hands. Her treatment was a trial for her condition too – we had to choose to go through it because there was no other option than to fight cancer.

Celebration then sadness

Marie finished treatment in October 2017, and we were all overjoyed: it had worked. We had a big party to celebrate.

The hospital told us that the risk of relapse was 10% within the first six months, then the chance would be very, very low. We hoped for the best.

But after six months, one day we were heading to school and Marie said, "Look dad, I have a bruise here", pointing to under her ear. We touched it, but it wasn't a bruise. She didn't know how to say lump. The lymph node was swollen.

Once again, we took her to Royal Manchester Children's Hospital to investigate, and the worse was confirmed by the doctors, that Marie's Leukaemia has come back. 

The hospital told us this time there would be a different plan for the treatment, likely involving a bone marrow transplant. The chemo would be more doses as well.

We were even more devastated.

We were also told that because we were mixed race - I'm from Lebanon and my husband is from England – it could be difficult to find a bone marrow donor. They said they would look all over the world at the donation register. It was another worry.

You wouldn't believe how Marie coped though - she was fine.

The night we got the news on the phone from the hospital that she had relapsed with leukemia, my husband was crying. Marie said, "Dad, stop crying. I did it once and I can do it again."

She really reassured us, we had to believe in her. We believed in what she was saying.

The donor Theresa and Marie in hospital
The donor Teresa and Marie

Finding a donor

After six weeks of looking for a donor, they told us: "We've got good news, we've found a donor for Marie." It was such a big relief. It was so, so good.

Marie's treatment carried on for about five months. We kept on praying to God that the donor would be safe and not have any problems before the donation. That was the only chance for Marie to survive it.

When Marie was waiting for her bone marrow to arrive, we went from the hospital to her cousin's wedding in Liverpool, and we got her a wig because they wanted her as a flower girl. She took it off, threw it away and said: "I'm more beautiful than that". She was a flower girl with a bald head. Marie was so confident – not a care in the world.

On 31st August 2018, the stem cell team came from Germany and they gave the bone marrow to Marie. It took about 20 minutes. It looked like pink mucus in a bag.

She then had to stay in the hospital for about another 35 days, because they kill all the cancer cells in the body with the chemo and radiotherapy. When they put the new bone marrow in hers, the body started producing new cells.

We sent the donor a thank you card and kept in touch anonymously for two years.

You're not allowed to know the identity of the donor within the first two years. After that, you can ask for their contact details. We wanted to know who the donor was as much as she wanted to know who she'd donated to.

Meeting Marie's donor

Our donor was a lady called Teresa.

She later told us that she had been planning to have a baby with her partner, but they told her she couldn't be pregnant until she donated.

Teresa heard her blood was a 100% match for a child. As soon as she heard the word "child", she said yes and put her baby plans on hold. She donated her bone marrow to Marie and then the following month she got pregnant. It's really amazing.

In November 2023 we went to meet Teresa in Cologne.

Theresa with her baby and Marie
Teresa with her baby and Marie

It felt like we'd known each other for ages – we'd been in contact over video calls and sent card and presents. It was so emotional with laughter, crying and happiness. My husband was emotional meeting her too. He had tears in his eyes.

Marie was shy to start with. We went to a restaurant to celebrate and I asked Marie: "How do you feel, who is Teresa for you?" She said: "My big sister". Teresa agreed Marie felt like her little sister.

I told Teresa I feel, she was the closest person to my heart. She gave me my daughter back. Marie always wished to have a sibling. I told her: "God has sent you a big sister now." We feel like we're all family.

Marie and her 'big sister' Theresa
Marie and her 'big sister' Teresa

Marie's miracle

Marie is now five years post bone marrow transplant and she's coping well; she's excellent in school, she's doing fantastically. The teachers say she works hard to catch up on what she missed.

Antoinette's daughter Marie
Antoinette's daughter Marie

Going through what we have, we appreciate life. You want to make the most of it.

My message to anyone reading this is if you are mixed race and thinking about donating your bone marrow, it's not just Marie. There are loads of kids with mixed race parents who are struggling to find donors.

We were lucky to find a donor from Germany. The country has loads of donors – they advertise a lot for them, such as in the gym and leisure centres.

Teresa is a teacher and organised a donation awareness day in her school. She managed to get 125 people registered to donate bone marrow after showing them her story with Marie. I'm also a teacher and I want to hold awareness days just like Teresa. I see her as my second daughter, my daughter's DNA sister.

Anthony Nolan is celebrating 50 years since a mother’s love for her son inspired the world’s first stem cell register. Find out how you can support the charity’s vital work

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