After losing one cousin and dealing with another being diagnosed with cancer, Derry Keary, a 20-year-old student from Northamptonshire has felt loss and the fear of losing someone in just two years. But recently there’s been hope, hope that he could prolong a stranger’s life.
On a cloudy day, Derry Keary swirls his cup of coffee with a spoon, “I got there, and it was just sombre, and I knew, I don’t even think anyone told me, you just knew, and I cried immediately”. He snaps his fingers together, “it clicked”.
Nathan O’Connell from Northamptonshire, studied the craft of a mixologist for nine years, landing him jobs around the world from Australia to the Caribbean. In an online article, he shares a recipe for his favourite cocktail, an espresso martini, you can see the love he had for his job, woven through the words in the passionate case for his favourite bevvy.
Derry Keary is his younger cousin. “When you know how to make drinks, you can go anywhere you want,” smiles the 20-year-old Journalism student. “Everyone needs a drink in the world”. But tragically, whilst in Ireland in July 2016, Nathan died from Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome during his sleep at the age of 29-years-old. “He was one of the nicest people, always made you happy, kept you uplifted really.”
“It was heart-breaking”, Derry says about his passing: “We didn’t know how to react to it, but apart from sadness it’s not like something happened, there was no closure, they were just gone.” Derry was on holiday in Amsterdam with friends from his secondary school, when after a couple of days of being in the Netherlands a call from his mum broke the news that Nathan was seriously ill.
“When I got off the plane and was driving home about eight in the morning, landing slap bang into Northampton, my mum said you need to come to his house”. Nathan was placed on life support after he was unresponsive and did not wake up, but Derry found comfort knowing all his close family were together when Nathan’s life support was switched off. Speaking about his admiration for Nathan’s siblings he says, “seeing how they’ve come up from it, it’s astounding. I have so much respect for them. I don’t think I could ever deal with losing a sibling, I struggle to lose at FIFA, losing a sibling is almost inconceivable.”
Almost a year later tragedy struck again when Nathan’s younger brother was diagnosed with leukaemia, also aged 29. Marcus O’Connell went to his doctor when a persistent sore throat refused to budge. The blood results from that day revealed the dire diagnosis. Derry couldn’t help but think of the worst after the recent loss of Nathan, “it wasn’t like oh god what horror, it was disbelief. Because we’ve dealt with just losing someone. Well personally, I wasn’t ready to accept another person going.
“And it was his brother as well and I was like no, that family, someone was out to get them. I genuinely felt like they were cursed, something had happened. Like nobody should have to deal with that, this woman losing two of her sons.”
Family members started the ‘spit not swallow’ campaign, a joke intended to draw attention in response to Marcus’s diagnosis. The aim was to get as many people signed up as donors to the Anthony Nolan charity. Held at the Old Northamptonians Rugby Club, a tremendous turnout led to 600 new donors on the register in a single day. Not long after a piece of good news finally landed in the laps of the family. A match yielded from the campaign was announced to them and he could start the vital treatment from a bone marrow transplant, giving him a chance of survival.
Marcus was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, which is the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells in the bone marrow and a transplant could replace damaged with healthy bone marrow in the body. After the transplant the family found out the donor was Edward, the younger brother of Marcus. Expressing his initial reaction Derry says: “Now the person responsible for trying to save him is his own little brother. I thought the bond in that family must be iron tight”.
Through a text that pinged through Derry’s phone and changed his entire day, he got the news and it was fantastic news. The best news. Marcus was in remission, the cancer was regressing, and the transplant was working. Derry thought it was time for a little celebration, “when I heard that he was in remission, I went straight to the shops and brought a bottle of Disaronno and just sunk it. Cause I was like why not? I had a drink with all my flatmates as well.”
Little did he know that when he got back to his flat only months later, an email would be awaiting him from the Anthony Nolan Trust. He was now a match. A match to possibly save someone else. Suddenly he became part of the narrative. A bit of his spit in a test tube tested and corroborated against people in need of a donation, came up with a potentially life-saving match. Very simple when written in such a frivolous way but this story is anything of the like.
Derry, who has had his blood taken for further testing to be 100% sure that he will be able to donate his bone marrow is hopeful, saying the nurse who took blood samples from him, called him the ‘perfect donor’. He will know for certain after eight weeks of testing the blood, but if everything is okay to proceed, the extraction of his bone marrow will likely take place during the Christmas period.
When talking about the praise he gets for potentially donating his bone marrow, Derry can’t see how what he is doing is anything unique. For him, the mentality is that of a soldier, the idea that what he is doing is nothing less of a duty. He questions, “who wouldn’t save someone’s life, if they could?
“To me, it’s just a bit of routine, I don’t think it’s too big of a thing, it’s just something everyone should do. So, when people say you’re doing such an amazing thing, I’m like please don’t, I’m just doing what I have to and getting on with my life.”
By the end of the interview the clouds have lifted, and its brighter outside. A lot like his story Derry has endured the sudden passing of a loved one, the diagnosis of cancer and subsequent remission of another and the news that he could possibly save a life. Brighter days are ahead and as he puts it, “it was about time, that we got some good news.”
Update: After this article was written Derry received the news that he is a confirmed match for a little girl. He will have a medical next year in February and the bone marrow transplant will take place in March.