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Let’s back Zac - £500,000 campaign to get life-saving treatment for Shropshire four-year-old

By Dominic Robertson | Ironbridge | Health | Published:

Today the Shropshire Star is urging people to back the campaign to give four-year-old Zac Oliver the treatment that could save his life.

Zac Oliver and his mum Hannah

The Broseley youngster has an extremely rare form of childhood leukaemia, called Near Haploid, and needs to travel to the US for treatment unavailable on the NHS.

His family need to raise £500,000 to get to Philadelphia for the CAR-T therapy, and they are organising a ‘wear red for Zac’ day to take place on September 28.

The event has already been backed by scores of businesses and schools across the county.

Zac’s mother, Hannah, is asking people to donate £1 to the cause, either through their JustGiving page or a dedicated text number, and to make sure they also mark the day by posting a picture of themselves on social media wearing red with the hashtag #wearredforzac.

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Zac’s plight has captured the hearts of his local community with a host of fundraising and donations having raised more than £80,000 already.

Hannah, a 33-year-old occupational therapist from Broseley, said: “We are asking everyone to pay £1 to JustGiving and post a picture wearing something red in support of Zac but also for childhood cancer.

“We want to raise awareness but also to see if we can get enough people involved.

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“If we could get 500,000 people who all pay £1 then we will be in Philadelphia by tomorrow.

“The support we’ve had so far is unbelievable; there are more than 50 businesses, more than 20 schools, people have been incredible.”

£500,000 needed to give Zac a chance

Hannah Oliver-Willets with Wayne Willets, Zac and his brother Leo

“You wouldn’t know, even now, he runs around like any normal four-year-old.”

Hannah Oliver-Willets is speaking about her son Zac Oliver, but although on the face of it Zac is like any other boy his age, the youngster is being treated for an incredibly rare form of leukaemia.

His best chance of surviving the condition, which is called Near Haploid, is revolutionary CAR-T therapy treatment in the US. The problem is the cost.

Zac’s parents face the heartbreaking need to raise £500,000 to get him to Philadelphia for the treatment.

His family, led by Hannah, her husband Wayne and Zac’s father Mark Garbett, have set up a fundraising drive as they seek to raise awareness of the illness and, most importantly, get the money to travel to the US for the treatment.

Zac with his father Mark Garbett

To boost the fundraising efforts Zac’s family and friends are launching the Wear Red for Zac campaign, where they are asking people to wear the colour on September 28, donate £1 to the cause through a JustGiving page and post a picture with the slogan on social media.

Hannah said she hopes they can gain national support for the campaign, which has already captured the hearts of those in Zac’s local community – raising more than £81,000 so far.

A host of local fundraising events have already taken place, but Hannah is encouraging everyone to back the day and help raise the money to send her boy to the US for treatment.

Hannah, a 33-year-old occupational therapist from Broseley, said the support they have received so far has been “unbelievable”, and she urged people to join in with Wear Red for Zac.

She said: “We are asking everyone to pay £1 to JustGiving and post a picture wearing something red in support of Zac but also for childhood cancer. We want to raise awareness but also to see if we can get enough people involved. If we could get 500,000 people who all pay £1 then we will be in Philadelphia by tomorrow.

Zac before he became unwell

“So far the support we have got is unbelievable. There are more than 50 businesses and more than 20 schools – people have been incredible.”

Hannah explained how she had feared the worst while waiting for Zac’s diagnosis, which was made on May 18.

She said: “The day we were referred from the GP practice to PRH I had sent a text to my mum that morning saying I think he has leukaemia. I just knew. Call it mother’s intuition. All the signs were there but you do not want to believe it, really. You are waiting for the doctor to say you’re just being an over-protective mother. But it didn’t happen.

“He got diagnosed and they were very, very much trying to convince me there was an 80 per cent survival rate which they were saying was fantastic, but at that point I turned round to the doctor and said ‘that’s really poor, if you have 10 children, only eight survive’. I started to think that is 20 out of 100, which is a lot. The doctors looked shocked and said ‘do you think so?’ and I said ‘yes, I want it to be 99.9 per cent’.”

As if the prospect of an 80 per cent chance of survival was not bad enough further medical results showed the survival rate for Zac’s condition had dropped to less than 25 per cent. Hannah said she is determined to leave no stone unturned in her fundraising, or research about potential treatments, to get Zac well again.

She said: “It did not quite sink in until I had done all my research. I read all the medical journal articles I could to work out what this means.

Decisions

“I am a ‘mum-cologist’ now. You have to be. Suddenly you are having to make decisions about a life-threatening illness when you have no medical background.

“We approached Boston Children’s Hospital for a second opinion, I have contacted the director of trials, the main research facility in the US, St Jude’s. I am in communication with the lead researcher of this condition. We have been busy. It is just wanting to find out how I can cure my son.

“Because it is rare and because it is not every day that oncologists will be dealing with children with this condition, for me it is important to make sure we are up to speed on all the research.”

Hannah said the costs involved with treating rare child cancers leave parents facing the hugely daunting prospect of massive fundraising at the most difficult time.

She said: “What is really sad is I bumped into a parent at Birmingham Children’s Hospital and her little girl has neuro-blastoma. She has been told to have a certain operation we do not have in this country she would need to raise a quarter of a million pounds to get there, and I said ‘what are you going to do to get her there?’ and she said ‘I don’t know’.

“I think for me we have to try, then whatever happens we will have done the best for our child.

“That the biggest thing is to make sure we have no regrets, that I don’t wish I could have done more.”

Hannah said that without the fundraising Zac will only be eligible for CAR-T therapy in the UK if he relapses, at which point he would be expected to go into a rapid decline – a situation she is determined to prevent.

She said: “The alternative is to stay on chemotherapy and wait for him to relapse and then in the UK he is eligible for CAR-T therapy. But the problem with his condition is if a child relapses they have a rapid decline. We are not prepared to wait for him to relapse.”

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