This Father's Day we celebrate Robert Keown, who provided a potentially lifesaving blood stem cell transplant to a complete stranger just months after he lost his own daughter to blood cancer.
Robert, 44, from County Antrim, was matched with an anonymous patient in urgent need of a transplant, and donated his blood stem cells last month, in an odds-defying match that is likened to ‘finding a needle in a haystack’.
Robert’s daughter, Adelle, who he describes as ‘sassy, with a heart of gold’ was just fifteen when she was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 2018 – just four months after her best friend tragically died of the same condition.
Recalling the moment he heard his daughter’s diagnosis, Robert said: “We were devastated and heart broken. Overwhelmed with disbelief, wondering how could this happen. We always tried to protect our children, but we couldn't protect her against this.
“Adelle always amazed us with the attitude she had. Her words from the first day she was diagnosed was ‘I've got this’. She was determined to beat it.”
Adelle was told her only hope of beating the disease was to receive a blood stem cell transplant from a matching donor, so her family - including Robert - signed up to the register hoping to be the lifeline Adelle desperately needed.
Sadly no suitable match was found within the family, but Adelle did find a match from a stranger who had signed up as a potential lifesaver with DKMS, and she enjoyed a cancer-free year in 2019 during which life began to return to normal for the family.
Robert said: “Following her transplant, Adelle was slowly getting back to herself. In no time at all she was living her life as any normal teenager would. Out with friends, cinema dates and girly trips to town.”
But in 2020, Adelle began to feel unwell again, and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, received the devastating news that her cancer had returned. After a brave fight against her very aggressive leukaemia, Adelle passed away peacefully in July 2020, at the age of eighteen.
Adelle’s family have since set up ‘Adelle’s Legacy Of Love’, a campaign in her name to celebrate her life and her many achievements, including taking part in the Rickshaw Challenge in 2019 which helped raise a huge £8 million for Children In Need. The family are also working with blood cancer charity DKMS to raise awareness of the urgent need for more people to come forward as potential blood stem cell donors, as Adelle’s transplant gave her precious extra time with her family.
Less than four months after Adelle died, Robert received a phone call from DKMS, and was told that he had matched with a patient fighting blood cancer, and would he be willing to donate his blood stem cells, in a transplant identical to Adelle’s.
Robert said: “When I heard the voice on the phone telling me I had matched with someone just like Adelle, I couldn't speak. I was in shock and crying. I was the best match for this patient which blew me away. I was so overwhelmed because I know what it's like to be on the other side waiting for a match.”
Robert donated his blood stem cells earlier this year, in a procedure very similar to giving blood. Due to anonymity laws surrounding patients and donors, it will be two years before Robert and his patient can be introduced, but they can communicate anonymously via DKMS until then.
Jonathan Pearce, CEO of DKMS UK said: “Robert more than anybody understands the magnitude of the gift he has given another family – a second chance of life for somebody just like Adelle.
“Adelle was an incredibly brave young lady, and her positive outlook shone through from the moment she was first diagnosed. Her legacy lives on through the work her family are doing to raise awareness of the urgent need for more blood stem cell donors, and through the incredible gift Robert has given another person - the chance of beating their own blood cancer”.
And to people thinking of signing up as a potential blood stem cell donor, Robert’s message is simple: “As a father, I was told I needed to rely on a complete stranger to save my child’s life. I felt useless. But then I was given the chance to be someone else’s hero. It was the easiest yes I’ve ever had to say.”
If you are aged between 17 and 55 and in general good health take the first step to register as a blood stem cell donor by registering for your home swab kit at www.dkms.org.uk/adelleslegacyoflove. It costs us £40 to register just one potential blood stem cell donor. While many of our supporters contribute towards the cost of their registration, not all are able to do so. Any funds you can donate, no matter the size, can make a huge difference and help to give blood cancer patients a second chance of life.