New mum’s heartbreak
Leukaemia relapse may rob woman of seeing her son grow
Just weeks after giving birth to her “miracle baby”, a first-time mum has relapsed with leukaemia and desperately needs a bone marrow donor to survive.
Jo Mitchell has gone public in her search for a suitable donor to increase the chance of what she has described as “finding a needle in a haystack”.
Because she is half Chinese and half Caucasian, finding a match is difficult — even with family searches of the 32 million people on the global register.
“We decided to share our story as we’re not the only ones finding it difficult to locate a donor, and while we are in desperate need of one, there are many others that are too,” husband Tim Lomas said. “We want Jo to live and see our son grow . . .”
Mitchell was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at 26 in 2013. For three years she battled the blood cancer with chemotherapy, blood transfusions and steroids.
In 2016 she was cleared of the disease and the couple made the most of life. They married, moved house and had an adventurous honeymoon.
“Since Jo’s first diagnosis and treatment, we’ve tried our hardest to really soak up the experiences and life milestones that we’ve lucky enough to reach,” Lomas said.
They were “playing catch up” on all of the good things their friends were doing when Mitchell was having her initial cancer treatment. Then, this year they welcomed baby Quinn to the family.
“We call Quinn our ‘miracle baby’ as we were told that our chances of having a baby at all were very slim due to Jo’s first diagnosis and treatment,” Lomas said.
Then came the relapse and medical advice that finding a donor was essential.
Siblings are usually the best bet for a bone marrow match because they draw on the same genetics, but Mitchell is an only child.
Specialists are searching for a match of registered bone marrow donors but because of Mitchell’s mixed heritage even that’s not guaranteed.
Lomas said the pair remained hopeful. They had set up a website sharing Mitchell’s story and advising how people could register to become bone marrow donors.
“We’ve weathered this storm before, and we will again — although the stakes are a lot higher this time round,” Lomas said.
“We also don’t really have any other options, to be honest, as the doctors and specialists have told us that a bone marrow transplant is essential due to the fact Jo has relapsed.”
Too ill to be interviewed, Mitchell told her partner that having Quinn helped keep her positive.
“Quinn is Jo’s shining beacon throughout the darker times we’ve been through recently, and her determination to get through the treatment and raise our son is what is driving her to get better,” Lomas said.
“I know we’ll be all right in the end, but it breaks my heart to see Jo not able to parent to the degree that she really wants to.”
The family have spent most of the time since Quinn’s birth at Auckland Hospital navigating life with a newborn on a busy hospital ward.
“The whole experience has been incredibly taxing for us a family, but it has brought us closer,” Lomas said. “A weird silver lining of the whole thing is that we’ve been able to spend every day with our newborn son.”
Executive officer of the New Zealand bone marrow register Raewyn Fisher commended Mitchell for going public. She said registering as a donor was as easy as giving blood. The process to donate bone marrow to an adult was just as easy.
Lomas said he would be forever grateful to anyone who registered to help his wife or anyone needing a bone marrow transplant.
“I don’t have enough kind words for the amazing people we’re lucky enough to have in our lives, and we’ll be forever thankful for their support and love. We love life, and we desperately want to be there when we see Quinn discover that same love.”
While we are in desperate need of one, there are many others that are too. Tim Lomas, husband
Tim Lomas and Jo Mitchell with baby Quinn. The search for a bone marrow donor is complicated.