The coordinating voice for Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Minority Ethnic transplant donation

Ivor Burford

My fall… and rise against Leukaemia – Ivor Burford, a representative of DWIB Leukaemia Trust

It was a bright but fresh April morning in 2002 as I prepared to go to work. I remember the day well, it was a Wednesday. On my way to the local train station I felt unusually tired although I had a good night’s sleep. Arriving at my destination station I had began to feel as if I had indigestion. I felt really uncomfortable. Before arriving at my office, I took a detour to the Pharmacy where I described my symptoms to the Pharmacist. He recommended some tablets that should have brought me the relief that I craved. Settling down at my desk, I took two tablets and began to arrange my tasks for the day. I was feeling progressively worse, sweating profusely, a pounding headache and the continued feeling of terrible indigestion. The tablets clearly were not helping. I was finding it hard to concentrate – I had to get home and to my bed. I called my fiancée Ann-Marie at work and told her how I felt and that I was leaving work for home immediately.

The essentially easy ten minute walk over the bridge to the train station turned into a half hour walk of extreme difficulty. I paused for a rest frequently and even became unbalanced by the wind as it whipped up across the bridge.I felt like an old man and not the young Man that I am. I was overjoyed to find my train on the platform and with no shortage of seats! I slumped gladly into a seat. My breathing was shallow and fast and my shirt was drenched in sweat. “Please God get me home soon” I thought.

The five minute walk home was an equally long haul effort. I prayed to see a taxi such was the extent of my weakness and my desperate need to get home quickly. My symptoms were beginning to appear flu-like. I took some medicine which is a tried and tested flu remedy and slumped down onto the sofa, I felt too weak to go up to bed.

Ann-Marie arrived home and put me to bed. I woke the following morning and made an appointment to see my GP. He didn’t diagnose anything but sent me to Lewisham hospital for blood tests to investigate the cause of a huge bruise on my stomach – where did it come from and why was it there?

Over the next few days my condition deteriorated. By Sunday Ann-Marie had to call the ambulance as I looked so pale and weak. The paramedics were equally unable to diagnose my problem but one thing was sure – I was burning up with an alarmingly high temperature, my blood pressure was abnormally low, as was my pulse rate. They wasted no time in getting me to the Accident and Emergency Department of Lewisham Hospital.

The bombshell
At the A&E Unit I was examined thoroughly. Vital observations such as blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, oxygen saturation and blood samples were taken. Whilst waiting I began to experience bouts of diarrhoea. I still thought that at worse I probably had a bad case of flu or possibly even food poisoning – little did we know we were in for a big shock!

After what seemed like hours we were approached by a Doctor. I tried to gauge his mood but his gaze was quite expressionless. However as he spoke we could tell and feel that there was some bad news coming. The Doctor mentioned the identification of some irregular cells in my blood. “Yeah so what” I thought. Then he dropped the bomb – “It’s quite possible that you are suffering from leukaemia but we will need to do further tests!”

I didn’t know much about leukaemia but we knew it was a form of the dreaded “C” word CANCER. I was stunned, worried, shocked and afraid all at the same time. As I looked across to Ann-Marie, her face went pale and she began to tremble from the shock. She looked winded, just as if she had been punched in the stomach by Mike Tyson.

As if this wasn’t enough bad news I was told that I will be admitted immediately! When I queried for how long, I was shocked to be told probably a few months at least! My immediate concerns were for my fiancée, our family and our future plans. Was this for real or just a bad dream I wondered. I asked the Doctor if I was doomed to die or what – I was scared.

At death’s door
My condition deteriorated rapidly in the following days. Kidney failure and other complications decreased my chances of survival to 20%.

Diagnosis confirmed
Following admission to the Haematology ward a routine bone marrow biopsy confirmed the worse. My condition was diagnosed as Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Several cycles of aggressive chemotherapy was administered. The nausea, mouth ulcers, and skin darkening experienced were only a few of the terrible side effects I faced. Eight months later I was back at work and back to reality.

Unknown to me at the time further relapses were to occur, leading to the urgent search for a bone marrow donor.

My rise after bone marrow transplant
Campaigns were arranged by Ann-Marie with the help of a handful of faithful friends, family, our Church and the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust, to find a bone marrow donor for me. During this time bone marrow searches in the UK and North America were underway to find a suitable match for me.

Needless to say I was overjoyed at the news that a match had been found in the United States of America! In December 2004 I received that special “Gift of Life” transplant and with the grace of God are now on my road to recovery.