Tragedy and Triumph of a Stem Cell Crusader

As the ‘Baldy Blogger’, Adrian Sudbury campaigned to raise awareness of stem cell donation with both the public and Westminster. Following his death from Leukaemia at just 25, his father Keith now continues his son’s work. I spoke to him in November to hear his story.

“This picture is difficult for my wife and me,” says 61 year-old Keith Sudbury as an image of his late son, just days from death, appears on the laptop beside him.

It shows Adrian – or ‘Sudders’ to his friends – on the phone with then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown, learning that his bid to win government support for his stem cell awareness campaign had been successful.

“When he received his terminal diagnosis, Adrian wanted to do two things,” Sudbury explains.

“One was to go out in a blaze of glory and secondly he had this wish – to raise awareness about blood, stem cell and organ donation.”

A newspaper journalist, Adrian documented his battle against leukaemia online on ‘Baldy’s Blog’ receiving thousands of supportive comments and mass media attention.

“His blog was successful because he could write in a very simple, down-to-Earth way about a complicated disease,” says Sudbury.

“He could also write in a very compassionate way, so the loved ones of other leukaemia patients would read to find out what was happening to their loved ones emotionally.”

Adrian’s death may have been the end of his personal campaign – but for his father Keith, it was just the beginning.

A former headmaster, Sudbury is now back in school halls across the Midlands, raising awareness of stem cell donation through the Anthony Nolan charity’s Register and Be a Lifesaver campaign.

“We have now spoken to 42,000 students in nearly 700 schools,” he says.

“And we are finding as many as 30% of students want to go on the stem cell register.

“There’s this myth that stem cell donation is all about cracking open spines and taking bone marrow, but that doesn’t happen anymore,” he explains.

“In 80% of cases you have your own hospital room, you’re on a bed for about four hours, blood comes out of one arm and goes into a machine that filters out the stem cells.”

Adrian himself received stem cells donated by an anonymous 30 year-old German woman who will be completely unaware of the difference her actions have made to the Sudbury family and others like them.

While Sudbury will never meet this woman, he wishes he could.

“It would be very tearful because I’d need to go through the whole thing and explain what had happened,” he explains.

“But I think her and her family would be very proud.”

Sudbury is determined to continue the work his son began to bring hope to many other families who are desperately searching for a matching donor.

“I think Adrian himself would’ve been surprised just how successful it has been,” he says.

“We’re finding that students we’ve spoken to are now getting that phone call. Without Adrian and his wish, that wouldn’t have happened at all.”

This success has been of great comfort to a bereaved father.

“I certainly feel Adrian is looking down on us, laughing at times,” he says with a smile.

“He will be very proud of what he has started.”

(Following this interview, I have since been invited to join Sudbury on one of his school visits on February 6th, where I hope to talk to more people from the organisation about his work and the impact it’s having on raising awareness amongst young people.)

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About Magnificent Geoffrey

I may be 'Magnificent', but I honestly have no idea what I'm doing.
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2 Responses to Tragedy and Triumph of a Stem Cell Crusader

  1. I find both Adrian and Keith massively inspiring. I’ve no idea what it must be like to face your own mortality but Adrian displayed a lot of dignity, style and class. I don’t think there’s anything worse in this life than losing a child but Keith has been nothing but admirable by carrying on Adrian’s legacy and wishes and raising awareness for a cause that needs more attention.

    A finely written piece which more than does justice to the Sudbury’s and I’m glad you’ve finally started this thing!

  2. damonsmedley says:

    I think it would make a brilliant story if the anonymous German donor could be located and told just how much of a difference people like her make to the world. Not only did she prolong life, but she gave him more time to start what will be a lasting legacy.

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