A lifesaving legacy kept alive by firefighters’ children

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Two firefighter dads have spoken of their pride after learning their children will keep a colleague’s legacy alive through lifesaving stem cell donation.

Crew mates Graham Robertson and Rich Ogden were devastated when Gary Dall tragically passed away in 2018 while waiting for a transplant after being diagnosed with blood cancer.

Graham and wife Pauline, were pleased to learn their St Andrew’s University student son Mitchell, 18, was found to be a ‘match’ on the Anthony Nolan stem cell register.

Mitchell travelled to Sheffield last November to donate his stem cells - just a year after Rich and his wife Gill supported their daughter Kirsty, 19, as she donated her stem cells after also proving a match.

The two firefighter fathers work together in the Red Watch at Kirkcaldy Fire Station in Fife where Gary was also based.

Graham said: “It’s incredible to think there’s two people from Gary’s old Station who have children who have been matched.

“As firefighters we work to assist in saving lives. What Mitchell and Kirsty have done is single-handedly played their own part in saving someone’s life.

“To get a successful match and stem cell donation especially during Covid, I think will give some people hope, when they perhaps thought there was none.”

Rich added: “I know Kirsty thinks about the person she has donated to and wonders how they are keeping.

“Our friend and colleague Gary has left an incredible legacy - and it’s hard to believe that two of our children have gone on to do this. It’s all because of Gary …”

Gary left behind wife Jennifer and children, Nicola, Hannah, Amy and Aaron following a brave battle against myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of blood cancer.

But he left a powerful legacy by joining forces with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) partnership with Anthony Nolan to use his story to recruit donors to the stem cell register - the partnership has now seen 18,500+ potential donors recruited with 76 of those going on to donate.

The SFRS partnership with charity Anthony Nolan was formed in 2009 after then Area Commander Ally Boyle had been diagnosed with Myelodysplasia. Ally quickly realised that both SFRS and Anthony Nolan have a shared focus, saving and improving lives.

After hearing Gary’s story, Kirsty and Mitchell were inspired to join the register.

Mitchell said: “Hearing that I was a match for someone was truly emotional but, physically, donating was a breeze. There are myths out there saying it’s painful and scary, but that’s not the case.

“I’d say to anyone who is having thoughts about joining the register that it’s honestly one of the best things you could do in either saving or prolonging someone’s life.”

Kirsty added: “Knowing you could potentially save someone’s life or give them more time or give them that chance … it’s an amazing feeling.”

Group Commander Calum Bruce is Vice Chair for the East area of the SFRS Anthony Nolan Partnership.

He said “Gary was a highly respected and admired friend and colleague. He spent 30 years of his life keeping his community safe and I am not surprised that he continues to inspire heroic actions from others.”

Anthony Nolan recruits people aged 16-30 to the stem cell register as research has shown younger people are more likely to be chosen to donate.

They also carry out ground-breaking research to save more lives and provide information and support to patients after a stem cell transplant, through its clinical nurse specialists and psychologists, who help guide patients through their recovery. It costs £40 to recruit each potential donor to the register, so Anthony Nolan relies on financial support.

Amy Bartlett, Anthony Nolan Development Manager for Scotland says: “These are extraordinary times. Mitchell, like Kirsty before him, has done an extraordinary and incredibly selfless thing by giving someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder their best chance at survival.  

“We also want to extend our gratitude to our partners of eleven years, SFRS, and to Gary’s family for their drive and determination to make sure no one should die while waiting for a donor. Without you seventy-six patients may never have found their match, you’ve given those people hope and a second chance of life.’

Read more about the partnership, where people aged 16-30 can also join the register online at www.anthonynolan.org/sfrs

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