Nick Heather tells his story of being diagnosed with an aggressive form of blood cancer during a global pandemic
An Irishman living in Australia who was recently diagnosed with leukemia may have had his life saved due to previously helping out a complete stranger.
In July, Nick Heather (33) found out the devastating news that he had a rare and aggressive form of blood cancer called Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Doctors gave him a 50pc survival rate of being here next year, however, if the Dubliner endured a successful bone marrow transplant he could have an entirely new immune system that hopefully wouldn’t produce these cancerous cells.
There is a 25pc chance that siblings are a match for a bone marrow transplant. Luckily, Nick has four siblings and his sister Sarah-Jane was a match.
However, unluckily, she was in Saudi Arabia and it proved extremely difficult to get her to Melbourne- as it had one of the strictest lockdowns worldwide with an effectively shut border.
“It was great news that she was a match. But then there was the problem of trying to get her to Melbourne to get started,” Nick explained to Independent.ie.
“With there being such a strict lockdown in Victoria and with the borders being closed there were no flights into Melbourne.
“So, the hospital booked her a flight that subsequently got canceled, they then were trying to find her another flight but they kind of told me ‘Look, it's not looking great at the moment.’
“So, that was pretty devastating to hear at the time.”
Nick, who has been living in Australia for nine years, said that the hospital told him to go to the media with his story, but he was just so sick and fatigued from the chemotherapy.
It was then that he began to think of people who may be able to help him- and in a crazy turn of events, a small act of kindness that the Dubliner committed before he was diagnosed may be the thing that saves his life.
Just three weeks before Nick was diagnosed he was driving in his van with his construction company logo on it. At a set of traffic lights, a man pulled down his window and asked Nick if he would pull over and have a quick chat with him.
So he did, and the man, who was also from Dublin, said his best-mates 19-year-old son needed some work, and wondered if Nick could help him out.
“When I got back to the office that day I said let's get him in for an interview and we did hire him apparently, but I wasn't involved and I never really thought about it again.
“It was only then when we were thinking of the transplant and struggling to get Sarah-Jane a flight that I remembered that guy and I remembered that his dad was high up at Etihad airways.
“So I got his details, got in contact with him and he remembered me, luckily. So he said ‘Look, things are crazy right now but I'll do what I can for you’.
“And two days later he had her on a flight.”
On December 11, Nick is due to receive the bone marrow transplant from his sister.
How this works is Sarah-Jane will be given injections leading up to the transplant which will heighten her cell count. Then they take this blood that is populated with cells out of one of her arms and then return the blood to her other.
Through a mixture full-body radiation and chemotherapy they Nick’s immune is completely wiped out and his sister's cells are administered to him through a transfusion.
Nick will then have to be isolated for two weeks as his new immune system builds up, as it is very likely that he can catch viruses and infection at this stage.
The Dubliner's family are no strangers to isolating for two weeks, albeit in much nicer circumstances healthily in a hotel room.
In Australia, anyone travelling into the country must self-isolate for two weeks in a hotel room approved by the government. They aren’t allowed outside for fresh air and basic food is delivered to their room.
Nick’s brother-in-law and Sarah-Jane’s husband Brendan Phelan (34) is currently self-isolating in an Australian hotel. While he is in the room he will be running 152km and raising money that will be split between Nick's treatments and the Leukemia Foundation in Australia.
Luckily, the hotel provided Brendan with a treadmill when they were told about the cause. He hopes to raise $150,000 for the fundraiser he has named KYPU.
“KYPU stands for ‘Keep your pecker up’,” Brendan explained to Independent.ie
“It’s an old English saying to remain positive when things are tough. When Nick had gotten the news we were all so focused on cheering him up so one of our friends Marc had gone to the Cameo website and sent a message to John Aldridge- who was a striker for Ireland and Liverpool.
“John Aldridge had rejected it and sent it back so Marc had thought that he rejected it not to do it, but he read the story and rejected the payment.
“So, in the video, he said to Nick ‘Keep your pecker up and you’ll never walk alone’....so that’s where that came from.”
Although Nick has remained positive when he first showed symptoms doctors thought it was Covid, something that he feels hindered his diagnosis.
He experienced fatigue, shortness of breath, and night-sweats and three separate GP’s thought it was Covid despite him returning several negative tests.
“Having spoken to friends who work in the medical world, and the fact that I had night sweats they said that’s a big tell tale sign of cancer,” he explained.
“And the fact that none of them picked up on that enough to get a blood test and just kind of had Covid in the forefront of their mind was a little bit bit frustrating.”
However, Nick added that he is extremely grateful that it was caught when it was as if he was left untreated for even another few weeks the doctors say he would’ve died.
Nick also explained how he has a very different outlook on life, explaining that we should all look out for each other because it often comes full circle.
“If you can do something for someone, I would go above and beyond now to do it,” he said.
Admitting that he is nervous about his bone marrow transplant, the Dubliner remains positive about his recovery.
“It's a pretty daunting thing to go into, I’m not going to lie, but I do feel good about it," he said.
“I feel I have a better chance than the doctors have given me as I've tolerated all the treatments well so far.
“So, I don't see this to be any different, and sure, I'm nervous about it. But, it gives me a great opportunity to actually be cured of a pretty horrible disease.”
The link to the KYPU fundraiser can be found here.