The kindness of strangers by Katie Wilkinson

This week’s blog takes a new direction, for one week only. Katie Wilkinson is one of our team at Liquid Ideas and a couple of weeks back she told us about her dad and what he was going through and how a bone marrow donor had been found in Germany for a lifesaving transplant. Katie’s old man Peter is a top bloke, a former legendary producer at 60 Minutes and owner of the Wilkinson Group, a top shelf PR business who we have worked with over the years – Pete has now sold his business to his staff to fight this disease.  It’s a bit sad that now mates recommend their daughters for jobs with me, but I guess I have to get used to that – and I’m bloody glad Pete recommended Katie. His daughter is doing him really proud as she starts out in the world of PR. As a father of a daughter I know how proud he is of her.

This is Katie’s story, a small tribute to the anonymous young German who just might have saved her dad’s life.

“When Dad told me that he was unwell the ground fell away beneath me. I had never heard of Myelodysplastic Syndrome, an aggressive blood disorder, and was shocked that it had developed within my fit and healthy father.  It progresses slowly and relentlessly. The cause is unclear and there is no cure, except for a pretty risky bone marrow transplant.

And then along came Hans. Hans arrived without much fanfare in a small blue esky, the kind that you buy from Bunnings. The nurse casually brought him in but we were tense and excited as we had been anticipating his arrival for more than 18 months.  We had exhausted all other options and Dad was getting worse pretty quickly – the hunt for bone marrow had become an urgent one.

Hans, a name that we gave the bone marrow donor, is not actually named Hans. Well, he could be, as one of the only things we know about him is that he is, in fact, German.

We’re not allowed to know much about this kind stranger. Well, not for two years anyway. We’ve been given some crumbs of information here and there. Hans Ulrich, as we’ve called him, is male, 25, German and has agreed to go through an uncomfortable and inconvenient operation in order to save the life of a man he’s never met in Australia. He is an eight out of eight when it comes to how well he matches my Dad’s marrow – literally a perfect match.

It’s overwhelming to think about how generous this young man on the other side of the world is. We’ve wondered whether he had a parent with a similar disease that inspired him to be so giving.  We hope not.

Hans’ bone marrow was extracted in Germany and flown over quickly in order to be transplanted into my Dad. The procedure is a delicate one. Watching Dad lie in an isolation ward slowly getting more unwell as his body fights the German bone marrow that attempts to graft to its new Australian host is hard.  Really hard. It’s a long process and as we wait for Hans to take hold in his new Australian home our family motto became “einen Schritt zu einer Zeit”, meaning one step at a time. We wrote it on some paper and stuck it to the wall, alongside our family photos. We wanted Hans to understand it too.

For those long weeks that we sat in hospital, we discussed visiting Hans in two years to thank him. Dad had been allowed to write him a short letter of thanks which the wonderful folks at St Vincent’s Hospital would deliver. He wasn’t allowed to give any information about himself or even sign his name. I bought a card with a beach on the front in an attempt to give Hans a clue of where we were.

While Hans and Dad didn’t make immediate friends they’re starting to bond now. Hans is grafting, Dad’s blood counts are heading back towards normal, and my Dad no longer has to stay in the isolation ward. While Dad has not developed a German accent or a desire to wear lederhosen like we thought he might, we have all become very fond of all things German. There is a little bit of a way to go when it comes to Dad’s recovery but things are looking good.

It took 12 weeks to find Hans, once the world renowned bone marrow team at St Vincent’s decided to press the ‘go’ button, and the search of a register of 13 million people started. Prior to Dad getting sick I wasn’t even aware that bone marrow was something you could volunteer to be a donor for. If you are between 18 and 45 years old, in good health and prepared to donate for anyone in the world, I seriously encourage you to call the Australian Red Cross Blood Service on 13 14 95 to make an appointment to donate blood and join the registry.

For more information, visit the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry website at abmdr.org.au.

Thanks Hans, the Wilkinsons of Sydney will be forever in your debt.

Katie and her dad, Peter Wilkinson

One thought on “The kindness of strangers by Katie Wilkinson

  1. Thank you for sharing this with us. I know Katie, and had heard that her father was terribly ill, but was not sure of which illness. I wish Katie, her dad and the whole family all the best. She is a beautiful girl and I am so happy things are looking brighter. Vanessa

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