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Present that says for a special gift.


AS LOVING Lewis Madden proudly shows off the iPod bought for him by his big brother, his joyful smile masks the untold bravery that inspired the gift.

For this present, popular among most Teesside teenagers, wasn't given by generous Liam, 17, to mark Christmas, New Year or his birthday.

Instead, it was a special and unique "thank you" to Lewis, 12, for his own priceless gift - a lifesaving bone marrow transplant.

When Liam was struck down by aplastic anaemia, a serious, rare disease caused by the bone marrow failing to produce blood cells, mum Claire, 35, had never even heard of the condition.

She said: "Liam's illness came out of the blue in September. He was fine one minute then the next he was in hospital with wires and blood transfusions and I didn't have a clue what was going on."

All they did know was that Liam had grown paler and lost weight and the Billingham family now faced a race against time to find a bone marrow donor to save him.

Claire, her ex-husband Karl, 35, and sons Kai, seven, and Lewis, were all tested to see if they were suitable donors. And when both Karl and Lewis came back as a suitable match, medics explained that a match from a sibling would have a greater chance of success.

Claire, a full-time-mum to Liam, Lewis and their brother Kai, said: "I was quite upset I wasn't a match. I just wanted to do it so I didn't have to put Lewis through it.

"Lewis was really poorly when he was little and had numerous operations on his tummy. He was adamant it was going to be him who gave Liam the bone marrow donation because he hates anaesthetics!

"But he's so proud that he's done it anyway - we all are. Liam bought Lewis an iPod Touch out of his own money just to say thank you."

Nobody could believe it when lively Liam, a music technology student at Middlesbrough College with aspirations of becoming a DJ, was struck down by illness.

Claire said: "Even now when we tell people he's ill, they say 'you're joking!' "He's such an outgoing personality. Everyone loves him. He's such a popular kid.

"But when we got a checklist of all the symptoms, he had them all."

Symptoms of aplastic anaemia include paleness, fatigue, shortness of breath on exertion, rapid heart rate, excessive bleeding, a tendency to bruise easily and being prone to infection.

Liam also had a stiff neck and a "whooshing" sound in the ears.

When Liam was struck down with these symptoms, Claire phoned NHS Direct and was advised to take him to the doctor. Claire said: "I took him to the doctor and he was in intensive care by 8pm that night. I will never forget the date - September 15.

"We had to go and get him a blood test as soon as possible and he was on the high dependency unit at North Tees Hospital that night. The doctor there was fantastic and explained everything he thought it could be."

But it wasn't until Liam was transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle that further tests confirmed aplastic anaemia.

Claire explained at that point Liam was so poorly, he could have passed into a coma at any time.

She said: "I'd heard of a bone marrow transplant but not the disease.

"It was touch and go the first couple of days he was in hospital because they couldn't get his blood level back up," said Claire, who explained while healthy people have a blood haemoglobin level of 13, Liam's was just four.

This meant he was weak, as the heart has to work harder to pump blood to get enough oxygen to the body's organs and tissues.

Claire said: "Liam had a lumbar puncture to test his bone marrow and blood transfusions. Our feet haven't really touched the ground since.

"Two weeks after his diagnosis, we all went to the RVI for blood tests to find out if we were a match for a bone marrow transplant.

"Both Lewis and his dad were a perfect match, but the hospital said they would prefer to take it from a younger child as it is stronger and the bone marrow is better coming from a sibling rather than a parent."


FUN-LOVING: Liam, left, and third right with pal Jonny Barras, far right, and brothers Kai, on left, and Lewis Go to FAMILY BOND: Donor Lewis Madden with his iPod, left, and below with mum Claire, and brothers Liam, who suffered life-threatening aplastic anaemia, and little Kai, seven, on mum's knee Pictures by IAN COOPER
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Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2010
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