Platelet Recipient Story - Gareth

My name is Gareth Williams and I am from Cork, I moved to near Clonakilty in 2005 with my Cork born wife and our 11 year old daughter then. In October 2009 I went to see my GP in Bandon because I felt quite ill, with what I thought was flu. My GP wanted me to go straight to Cork University Hospital (CUH) A&E, but it was a Friday afternoon and working in the Bon Secours Hospital knew all about waiting times and did not want to spend the weekend on a trolley, so I declined. My GP was not happy and as a compromise I rang the head of the laboratory at the Bons and my rather annoyed GP told them what blood tests she wanted done. I drove to the Bons, had the tests and drove back to Bandon.

Unbeknown to me, emergency medical wheels were spinning. The Bons test results weren’t good. They contacted my GP and told her that they were contacting CUH to prep for me due to the severity of my condition. At this stage I was still oblivious to the severity of my condition, the opposite of “Man Flu” I suppose! As I had annoyed my GP I bought some chocolates to say sorry on my way back. As soon as I saw my GP I knew it was bad, she welled up when I gave her the chocolates as she broke the news that I had Acute Leukaemia. The next couple of hours were a blur. The dash home to collect a few things, tearfully notifying my daughter, the drive to CUH and being “fast-tracked” through A&E and admitted to Ward 2D. I found out later that my platelet count was one of the lowest that anyone had ever presented at CUH with, around 11, I believe.

The brilliant Haematologists and 2D staff diagnosed me with Acute Promyelocytic Leukaemia (APL) a rare and previously fatal form of Myeloid Leukaemia; I was 48 years old at that time. I had no warning signs and no reason to believe that it was anything worse that flu. Luckily, however, my wife is a highly qualified nurse and she strongly suspected that I was very unwell. If she hadn’t insisted on me going to the GP I’d have died. Actually, we later found out that, with APL and DIC I probably wouldn’t have survived the weekend.

APL is a rare type of blood cancer that affects cells called promyelocytes, which are white blood cells, at an early stage of development. It follows a genetic shift at chromosomal level. As I understand it, immature blast cells clog up your bone marrow and without new blood cells getting through, your blood dies and without treatments involving large amounts of blood and platelets, so do you. 

Following admission to CUH I received world class treatment for three months in an isolation room. The isolation was vital because I had no viable immune system due to the disease. I was fitted with lines and blood and platelets, as well as chemotherapy and other drugs were administered from early morning until late at night. Every morning started with a blood test. This then dictated what range of bloods, platelets and drugs I would have for that day. I remember thinking that it was like being a Formula One racing car, the level of fine tuning every day was so specific.

Without the lifesaving platelets, donated by wonderful people, anonymous to me, I have absolutely no doubt that I would not be alive today. I am now 13 years out the gap and living life to the fullest thanks to CUH’s professional excellence, but as importantly, the selfless generosity of the platelet donating community. You are all, literally life savers!

Thank you, absolutely, from the bottom of my heart and that of my family, you are heroes!