Family's plea: Help Shropshire toddler Gunner find a stem cell donor

The family of a little boy who has been diagnosed with a life-limiting metabolic disease are raising urgent funds to add more donors to a stem cell register with hopes it will give him the best chance of survival.

Gunner Lewis-Vale
Gunner Lewis-Vale

In March, eighteen-month-old Gunner Lewis-Vale was diagnosed with a rare mucopolysaccharide disease, MPS Type 1 Hurler, which means his body cannot convert sugar into necessary protein in the body.

Although it was discovered at a relatively early stage, Gunner’s doctors have said his best chance of survival is with a stem cell transplant before his second birthday.

The smiley toddler, from Highley, near Bridgnorth, comes from a family of four – mum Holly, 31; dad Jamie, 31 and four-year-old sister Daisy.

As Gunner does not have a close enough match in his family, he needs to find a matching, unrelated donor through the stem cell register.

Currently there is no match for Gunner on the UK stem cell register, so his family have launched ‘Gunner’s Goal’, a fundraising appeal to help Anthony Nolan send thousands of swab packs to people who have applied to join the stem cell register.

It is hoped it will increase the chances of people like Gunner finding his match.

'Alarming'

They are also urging more young men, aged 16-30, to join the Anthony Nolan register, as they’re the most likely to be chosen to donate, but make up just 18 per cent of the overall register.

Holly says: “Gunner struggled with heavy breathing since he was born and his hearing was limited to 50 decibels.

“When he was six-months-old his head started growing at an alarming rate. We initially struggled to see anyone due to Covid, and I thought I was just being a mum in lockdown, can’t go anywhere and completely over-thinking it.

“Finally, we managed to see a healthcare professional at a walk-in centre in January, who referred us straight to Telford hospital.

“By a stroke of luck, the consultant on shift had seen a child with MPS Type 1 before, and was pretty confident that’s what Gunner had. Tests were ordered and the diagnosis was confirmed. A week later we were in Birmingham Children’s Hospital to start enzyme treatment.

“I signed up as a stem cell donor last year, after seeing an appeal for Ashley Cain’s daughter, Azaylia. At the time we didn’t know we’d be in the exact same position.

“Joining the register is something you’d maybe never think of doing until it affects someone you know. But all these people are waiting for their match, including my baby.

Gunner and his family

“Please consider joining, or funding a new donor to join the register if you’re over 31. You’ll never realise what you’re giving to a family, just to have those few more years of life.”

Enzyme infusions are necessary for patients with Gunner’s diagnosis, as they help the body break down sugars.

Holly said: “All the damage before diagnosis has already been done, but we’re trying to stop further damage.

“We still consider ourselves so lucky that we saw that consultant by chance.”

While weekly enzyme infusions at Birmingham Children’s Hospital keep Gunner stable, the only hope of prolonging his lifespan lies in a stem cell transplant, and his medical team need to find a matching donor before his second birthday.

“At the moment, we’re in hospital two or three times a week,” said Holly.

“I’m mastering the route to Birmingham.”

'Besotted'

Gunner undergoes transfusions while watching photos and videos of his older sister Daisy.

“He is besotted by his sister and could happily watch her for hours,” said Holly.

With a roster of fundraising events planned around the Shropshire area for May and June, it’s going to be a busy time.

It costs £40 to recruit each potential donor to the register, so Anthony Nolan relies on financial support.

Henny Braund, chief executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “Finding a match would mean everything to Gunner, his mum, dad and Daisy.

“We’re doing all we can to support the family and find a stem cell donor to give Gunner a second chance of life.”

Anyone interested in helping the family can visit www.gofundme.com/gunnersgoal

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