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LEUKAEMIA GIRL'S LEGACY: FIGHT ON FOR JO; 'Lives have been saved through our daughter's plight and we hope this support will continue'.

Byline: By MAGGIE BARRY

BRAVE Johanna MacVicar has died after a battle against leukaemia which won the heart of Robbie Williams.

The 27-year-old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukaemia at the age of 16 and went through the pain of one failed bone marrow transplant.

Despite her illness, she tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of the disease, winning an army of celebrity supporters like Hollywood star Dougray Scott.

Johanna was also at the forefront of the campaign to recruit bone marrow donors - even managing to persuade pop superstar Williams to sign up.

But she failed to find her own match for a second transplant and died in the arms of her family at home in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, on Tuesday.

Last night, her mother Angela MacVicar said: "Johanna fought a courageous battle to raise awareness of the Anthony Nolan Trust with great success.

"Lives have been saved through Johanna's plight and it would be her dearest wish for this support to continue.

"Johanna touched the hearts of everyone she met and her proud family would like to thank those who battled with her. She will remain forever in our hearts."

Her daughter was diagnosed as a teenager and had to endure years of daily injections of the drug interferon after an unsuccessful transplant in 1995.

But Johanna insisted on dedicating much of her time to the Anthony Nolan Trust - helping to raise funds to improve leukaemia research.

She was introduced to pop star Williams in 2000 and quickly struck up a friendship with him, even inspiring him to become a donor.

Her circle of star backers grew after meeting actor Scott while he was researching his role in the film Ripley's Game, in which he plays a man dying of leukaemia.

And, last night, a spokeswoman for the Anthony Nolan Trust said Johanna's campaigning work had left a lasting legacy.

She said: "She touched a great many people in her life, not least for her determination and positive outlook in the face of adversity.

"Not only did her outlook persuade Robbie Williams to join the register but she also gained the admiration of the Hollywood star Dougray Scott.

"The Anthony Nolan Trust will forever be indebted to Johanna for her extremely powerful part in raising awareness.

"Her work has brought fresh hope to other leukaemia sufferers throughout the world.

"She has raised awareness of the fact that there is a way for people to give a precious gift of life and be a bone marrow donor.

"Unfortunately, her struggle was lost but, through her, the battle will be won for others."

Dougray Scott said he had been left shattered by Johanna's death, adding: "I was really saddened by the news. She was one of the bravest people I have ever met.

"My heart goes out to her family at this very difficult time for them. She will never be forgotten."

Leukaemia, which accounts for two per cent of all newly diagnosed cancers in the UK, affects white blood cells, which are part of the body's defence against infection.

Chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML), which Johanna was diagnosed with as a schoolgirl, is the rarest form of the illness.

It tends to affect middle-aged people and only about 40 children are diagnosed every year.

CML is a gradual form of leukaemia that causes the bone marrow to produce too much of a certain type of white blood cell.

Symptoms include tiredness, breathlessness, fever, loss of appetite and night sweats.

People with CML have a number of treatments available to them, including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and steroids.

But some sufferers, like Johanna, need to have a bone marrow transplants in order to survive.

The most common type of the disease in the UK is acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL).

Accounting for around eight out of 10 leukaemia cases in children, early signs of the illness can be similar to flu.

This year, Scots three-year-old Sara Thakray was flown to the US for specialist treatment.

But the toddler, from Dunfermline, sadly lost her fight for life in March. Despite that tragedy, up to 80 per cent of patients will be cured of the disease, thanks to chemotherapy.

In some cases, the leukaemia may come back - normally within the first three years after stopping treatment.

And, if this happens, further treatment can be given, including a bone marrow transplant.

Every year, thousands of people with diseases such as leukaemia, aplastic anaemia and inborn metabolic and immune deficiency disorders, reach a stage where only this kind of transplant can save them.

Around 7,000 people in the UK are now waiting for transplants. And, although there are about 345,000 people registered to become donors, more are needed.

Family members, particularly brothers and sisters, can make the best bone marrow matches.

But this is not always possible and patients must hope that an unrelated volunteer donor will be found.

They must be aged 18 to 40 and weigh more than eight stone, while women volunteers must not be pregnant.

JOINING The Anthony Nolan Register is simple. You don't have to pay and you can sign up from anywhere in the UK.

Call 0901 88 22 234 or write to: The Anthony Nolan Trust, The Royal Free Hospital, Pond Stree0t, Hampstead, London NW3 2QG.

CAPTION(S):

EMOTIONAL TRIBUTE: Johanna, left, and proud mum Angela; WILL POWER: Star pal Robbie; RESPECT: Johanna & Dougray
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 19, 2005
Words:892
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