As a superfit firefighter and former soldier Steve Lock never did ‘sick’ but now his wife is appealing for Midlanders to help him find a bone marrow donor three months’ after he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia.
Overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers, as well as friends, Tracey Lock is doing everything she can to help her husband Steve beat the cancer which struck without any real warning.
The 41-year-old administrator, who lives in Cheylesmore, Coventry, had just returned from the first bone marrow donor recruitment clinic, held by friends and colleagues at Coventry firestation last week.
Mr Lock had returned from a skiing holiday in February feeling low after developing chronic toothache, which, after seeing a dentist, was found to be an infection and was treated with antibiotics.
But over the following weeks the 37-year-old, who is part of West Midlands Fire Service’s technical rescue unit at Bickenhill, continued to feel unwell until April when he felt unable to go to work – 24 hours later he was told he had leukaemia.
Now his wife is passionately campaigning for bone marrow donors to attend clinics at fire stations across the West Midlands to help find a perfect, or best possible, match.
More than 170 people attended the first session, held at Coventry Fire Station on July 30, “many more than I’d ever thought we’d get,” admitted Mrs Lock.
She added: “Steve’s a typical soldier, he never gets sick and if he feels unwell at all he’ll take a paracetamol or something and soldier on, so when we found out about this in April it was an absolute bolt from the blue.
“Maybe he didn’t realise it but friends at the fire station were continually asking him if he felt okay. He realised something was wrong when he couldn’t go into work one day. He said if I go in and we’re called to a job I don’t think I could do it.
“He went to see doctor on April 29 where he had some blood samples taken. Then 10.30pm that night he got a call asking if he felt alright. Then the doctor told him he needed a blood transfusion. Even at that point we had no idea it could be leukaemia.”
The following day the couple returned to University Hospital of Coventry and Warwick where, after more blood tests and a biopsy, doctors told the firefighter what he had.
Mr Lock, who is now on his third course of chemotherapy and needs the bone marrow transplant to save his life. The couple are in a race against time as doctors are unable to give a precise prognosis, so Mrs Lock contacted Phil Webb at West Midlands Fire Service to try and arrange some ‘donor days’.
“I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to support us, 175 in total, who spent 45 minutes getting tested. I hope this good start will help us find a perfect donor for Steve, but if not, then hopefully other leukaemia patients will benefit.
“Without a suitable donor it’s a 50:50 chance of survival, but his doctors haven’t put a timescale on it. All we know is that his best chance of survival is to have a bone marrow transplant, otherwise the cancer will come back.
“Patients are usually only allowed a maximum of five courses of chemotherapy, but that’s mainly for those who have a cancer that can be ‘cured’ – it goes away and doesn’t come back. But if someone really needs a transplant they are limited to three courses, which is why we need to find a donor so urgently.”
A series of Anthony Nolan Trust bone marrow donor recruitment clinics are being held throughout August and the next is tomorrow at Highgate Fire Station, on Moseley Road, between 3pm until 7pm.
There are 16,000 people worldwide in need of a bone marrow transplant, but because individual genetic makeup is so varied the chances of finding a suitable donor are slim. The Anthony Nolan Trust maintains a register of volunteer bone marrow donors to help improve the ‘needle in a haystack’ search that takes place each time someone is diagnosed with leukaemia. In the UK, 27,000 adults and children are diagnosed with leukaemia each year.
Alex Frazier, of the Anthony Nolan Trust, said: “This is a real call to action for people. We need as many healthy people aged between 18-40 to come forward and sign up as possible.”