'You’ve all been amazing': Zac's family overjoyed as he can fly to America for treatment

By Dominic Robertson | Telford | Health | Published:

Zac Oliver’s family today thanked the people of Shropshire for helping to raise £500,000, saying: “You’ve all been amazing”.

Hannah Oliver-Willets and her son Zac, who has acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and who has fresh hope thanks to the £500,000 appeal

A mystery donor took the total past £500,000 with a £100,000 donation to the youngster’s cause.

Now the race is on to make arrangements to take the four-year-old to America for cancer treatment that could save his life.

The money will be used to pay for CAR-T therapy at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. He is likely to travel from his Broseley home early next month and will spend several weeks in the US.

In a few weeks £500,000 has been raised for Zac Oliver from Broseley by people in Shropshire and around the UK

Zac’s mother Hannah said: “This would not have happened if people had not worked as hard as they have. They have just been amazing. What is interesting and what we have learned from this is we know that being a team is the key.”

The money has been raised in little more than a month, after Zac’s family made an appeal and set up an online appeal account.

Since then the people of Shropshire have risen to the challenge, taking part in a Wear Red for Zac Day and a Telford Park ZacFest. Schools and workplaces have made collections and the youngster was guest of honour at AFC Telford United.

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The anonymous donor stepped in late on Wednesday to take the total to the half a million mark. The family have asked people to bank their pledges as soon as possible.

The family will need to find further funding into the future, with Zac's night feed and out-patient medication costing over £1,000 a month while they are in America. They will also need to return to the US every three months for a year, and every six months for two years for Zac to have bone marrow biopsies.

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'Our team is the whole of the UK'

Pupils at Broseley Primary School spell out Zac's name

It seemed like the impossible target – but in only a matter of weeks the people of Shropshire and the UK have raised an incredible half a million pounds for four-year-old Zac Oliver.

A mystery donor took the total past £500,000 when they pledged £100,000 to the Broseley youngster’s cause.

It comes just over two months since the campaign launched, with Zac’s parents Hannah and Mark now able to start the process of arranging to take their son to America for treatment.

Hannah revealed that she first thought the £100,000 donation was a prank, but was reassured by a phone call from the mystery individual.

The total marks the culmination of an incredible community effort, which has seen people the length and breadth of the county organising events and donating to help Zac reach his target.

The money will be used to pay for CAR-T therapy at Philadelphia Children’s Hospital in the US, which will give Zac, who has a rare form of leukaemia (near haploid), a chance at survival.

Hannah, a 33-year-old occupational therapist, said they had been overwhelmed at the way the community of Broseley and Shropshire has rallied round to get them to what was a hugely daunting target.

Celebrities like Wolves legend Steve Bull gave their support

She said: “It sounded like an absolutely ridiculous amount but we have done it. It just seemed so much.

“We were very aware it was an extraordinarily large amount at that time but now it kind of seems like with everyone’s hard work we have done it and in such a short amount of time.

“But that would not have happened if people had not worked as hard as they have. They have just been amazing.

“What is interesting and what we have learned from this is we know that being a team is the key.

“Because if we had taken the approach where it was just us trying to raise the money we would never have done it.

“We had to put ourselves out there and just get a team together and that team was the whole of the UK.

“You cannot get any bigger gift from the community.


“The community has done such a huge amount for us. It is amazing.”

She added: “I think even when we were at £100 in our Just Giving account, they believed in us and I think that is magic that they just did.

“They took on the challenge like we did and people did not have to do that. People did not have to believe and they did, they believed.”

Zac’s father added: “It is amazing. There are so many people who have helped.

“How do we repay them and the community for doing this?

“We don’t have the money to pay them, all we can say is thank you.”

The fundraising has seen all manner of efforts, including a huge response to the ‘Wear Red for Zac Day’ on September 28 where people across the county united for one day of focussed fundraising.

The event saw thousands of people wearing red and donating to the cause, posting pictures on social media of themselves wearing the colour in support of Zac.

Telford’s Mayor with Zac at the Zacfest event

More than 50 schools joined in the efforts, while businesses and workplaces also took on the challenge.

They have included companies donating the profits from their day’s work, weekend long bucket collections at supermarkets, and scores of people organising their own local fundraising efforts.

One instance saw 13-year-old football memorabilia collector Finnley Wiggan from Broseley auctioning off his treasured signed Hector Bellerin Arsenal shirt, only for the buyer to let him keep it when he found out the reason the youngster was selling it.

Hannah said that despite the intimidating £500,000 total, there had never been any choice but to try and raise the money for the treatment which could save her son’s life.

She said: “You do know deep down that on the one hand you just have to take the bull by the horns; you are given a challenge and you take it. Sometimes you have no choice.”

Amid the jubilation there is still work to do, with Hannah urging everyone who has pledged or collected money to get their efforts in as soon as possible.

She said: “It is amazing. We just want to make sure that we get all of the pledges in now, that is the biggest thing because we are doing everything behind the scenes as soon as possible to get out there.”

Hannah said she did not know the mystery donor, but she had spoken to them and said the voice was familiar.

She said: “I think they are a very special person. I am not going to say he or she, but they are a very special person.

“I think they have made three telephone calls to me personally and they did not need to do that. They did that to put my mind at rest.

“They have done it because it is personal and they have done it to send good luck and make sure we are okay – and totally anonymously.

“I hope one day they will let us know who they are so we can thank them publicly.”

Zac was the mascot at a Telford AFC game

Hannah revealed that one of the phone calls was just to reassure her that the donation was real.

She said: “They told me not to worry and to pack our bags and start booking your flat. Because I was really sceptical I was talking to the banker and they telephoned back and said it is not a prank. It is bonkers, who phones up to do that!”

The next stage for the family is to start the preparations for travelling to Philadelphia Children’s Hospital for the treatment.

Hannah said that the earliest they can leave will be after October 29 – the date of Zac’s last chemotherapy appointment.

She said: “The idea is to have the last dose of chemotherapy and then go a week after that, unless we can get everything organised before then.

“We did not anticipate getting here this quickly so we have got lots of things to organise.”

She has also spoken about how she wants to campaign for it to be easier for families to access expensive treatment for their children.

She said: “My hope is it can pioneer the future attitude to treatment for children.

“I think this is my life now.

“This is not where it ends, this is just the beginning for me.

“We are going to get Zac right, then as a family we are going to try and drive this forward and change the UK.

“We want to make sure other children do not have to go through what we have had to.”

In the spotlight: The hospital Zac will be treated at

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP)

It is the only US hospital devoted exclusively to the care of children, and it holds the key to Zac Oliver’s chances of survival.

The Broseley four-year-old’s mum, Hannah Oliver-Willets, discovered the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and its revolutionary CAR T-cell therapy when she began desperately searching for a way to cure her son.

The American hospital has gained a reputation for the treatment, which it pioneered in 2012.

Since then it has treated more than 250 patients with the therapy.

Doctors at the hospital say the 17-week CAR T-cell therapy would give Zac a 60 to 80 per cent chance of survival, as opposed to less than 25 per cent if he continues with chemotherapy or has a bone marrow transplant, which are the only options available to him in Britain.

'Game changer'

Announcing the licensing of the treatment by the US Food and Drug Administration the hospital described it as a “game changer” for patients.

The treatment modifies patients’ own immune T cells, which are collected and reprogrammed to potentially seek and destroy the patients’ leukaemia cells.

After being infused back into patients’ bodies, these newly built “hunter” cells both multiply and attack, targeting cells that express a protein called CD19.

Tests have revealed that the army of hunter cells can grow to more than 100,000 new cells for each single engineered cell patients receive, producing high remission rates in completely refractory leukaemia – and can survive in the body for years.

“This is a turning point in the fight against B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia that opens up opportunities for patients across the world who desperately need new options,” said Carl June, MD, the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine and director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies in the Abramson Cancer Center.

“We’re excited and proud to have moved this CAR therapy, in collaboration with Novartis and CHOP, through all phases of development and clinical trials, established its efficacy, and now extended its reach to children across the country under this FDA approval,” he added.

“We hope the momentum behind the technology builds as we continue to investigate the abilities of personalised cellular therapeutics in blood cancers and solid tumors to help patients with many other types of cancer.”


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