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Georgina's Story: Cord Blood for Brother's Brain Tumour
Georgina Russell from Preston, near Manchester in the UK, was four months pregnant when she received the terrible news that her older brother, Ashley, had a rare, slow-growing form of the brain tumour, glioblastoma.
Glioblastoma is associated with a wide range of commonly occurring symptoms, such as headaches and nausea. For this reason it can take a long time for sufferers to recognise the seriousness of their condition. Ashley had been suffering with vague symptoms for months before changes to his co-ordination and vision prompted him to seek medical advice. Having confirmed glioblastoma with MRI images, Ashley’s doctors estimated that he had just five years to live.
Ashley is 34 years old and worked for the Royal Navy until his diagnosis in August 2017. He and his wife have a daughter, Alexis, who has recently turned two. "She’s so like her Dad,” says Georgina, “Ashley’s always been a family man. At least now he has his family around him and he’s able to spend time with his daughter. That’s the best thing for him really."
Determined to help her brother in any way possible, Georgina spent the days following his diagnosis researching his condition and emerging treatments. Then, late one night she made the discovery that could save Ashley’s life. "I knew that the placenta was nutritional and could help the recovery of the body," says Georgina "and I thought, what a shame for that to go in the bin. Then my cousin sent me a link to a story about breast milk being healing and used to fight infection. This was interesting, but it wasn’t enough. I started typing things in and eventually came across a site that mentioned umbilical cord blood. I thought, oh my goodness! Doctors are using stem cells from the cord to treat different cancers!"
Georgina was shocked to learn that cord blood stem cells have been used in over 40,000 transplants to treat over 80 diseases of the blood and immune system, and yet no one she knew had heard of cord blood storage. "It should become a part of our education." She says, "It’s so important. In schools and childbirth clinics people need to know that their child or a member of the family might need these cells. This is Ashley’s life. A life that’s ending far too early."
The next day, Georgina compared umbilical cord blood banks in the UK and spoke to Nikki at Biovault Family. Nikki talked her through the unique properties of umbilical cord blood and the process of collection and storage. “I realised, this could be it," Georgina says, "with Ashley being my brother there would be a good chance of a match."
Feeling reassured that the family had a plan, Georgina tried to carry on as normal. Then, six weeks early and in the middle of a theatrical performance of Sister Act, Georgina’s waters broke. "I was at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool" Georgina says, "and I felt a gush. I stood up and ran to the toilets. Luckily a retired midwife had spotted me and saw that I was bleeding. My partner rushed us in a taxi to the hospital where they did a scan and discovered a dark line between the womb and placenta. I had clots and had been bleeding for a long time. After two days in hospital I was taken for a C-section."
Despite everything she had been through, Georgina was determined that the umbilical cord be collected safely. "I was in trouble, my baby was in trouble but I just kept saying: Do not throw away that cord! Biovault was amazing. It was a bank holiday but they all pulled together. Nikki rang me and told me not to worry; they would get a kit out to me. As soon as that was sorted out I could relax.”
Her daughter Charley was delivered safely and has had a powerful effect on Georgina who feels closer than ever to her family. "We are five siblings," she says, “and there are so many photos of the five of us together as children. To remove Ashley is like removing a piece from the picture; a piece of the jigsaw puzzle would be missing. Since I’ve had Charley I can begin to imagine how our mum is feeling right now. It’s beyond anything I’ve ever felt, it’s heart wrenching."
With Charley’s cord blood and tissue safely stored away, Ashley’s family and friends have pulled out all the stops to organise fundraising events to pay for his treatment. "Ashely is overwhelmed by all of the support." Georgina says, "He can't believe that so many people care so much. But that’s human nature. If someone can help, they will"