A group of 30 football fans from Worcestershire are taking on a 32-mile walk on Tuesday 13th February between Kidderminster Harriers and Solihull Moors Football Club to help raise funds for Cure Leukaemia and have lofty ambitions to raise in excess of £10,000 for the charity who help fund clinical trials to find a cure for blood cancer.

It will be the team’s biggest challenge following previous walks to Forest Green Rovers, Telford and Cheltenham but the team have the biggest inspiration this time round though – fellow fan Tom Hudson’s daughter, Bella, was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) aged just eight years old and has been fighting the illness ever since.

She was diagnosed on Friday 13th August 2021 – a date that will be forever etched into the memory of Tom. Having had fatigue and a temperature for several weeks, doctors initially classified the illness as a viral infection – during the peak Covid outbreak. They eventually managed to get an appointment with a Consultant at Worcester Hospital as the Doctors immediately called Tom and his partner back with worrying results.

“I just knew it was bad. They told us it was leukaemia and I just had no idea what that was. We didn’t even know it was a type of cancer. The Doctor spoke to us about it and told us as much as he could at the time with further tests still to be completed. They knew it was leukaemia just from looking at the cell count – but they needed to understand what form of leukaemia it was. It hits you like a tonne of bricks.”

“It really threw me back. My partner was absolutely broken. I had to focus on every word that the Doctor said, and from that point, I was just so emotional.”

Bella was then immediately transferred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where she began a course of chemotherapy which would last for four months – only to receive the news that it wasn’t working.

“We were waiting for a drug from America and they started the treatment because she had a tumour mass on her chest – they knew that the treatment was working because the mass on her chest began to shrink. It was a shock when we were initially told that nothing was working. We were told to start preparing for the worst.”

“Every night heading back to Ronald McDonald House (at Birmingham Children’s Hospital), I was just crying my eyes out. It was horrible. You are still hoping for that miracle. I still remember the day that the Doctor told us the news that the treatment was finally working. She pulled me to one side, away from my wife who had been distraught throughout. She grabbed my hand while she was jumping up and said “it’s working.”

The treatment meant that Bella needed a stem cell transplant. She was released from hospital in time for Xmas, before returning in January. She would be hospital-bound for eight months with complications and reactions to medication as she completed the transplant but her parents knew that something still wasn’t quite right.

“We managed to get her home after the transplant, but I just knew that it was a poor graft – none of the new cells were kicking in and platelets weren’t working.”

Bella managed to fight it for another 12 months before she relapsed – and her parents were delivered the heartbreaking news that “this is probably it now” because the leukaemia had now morphed into the more aggressive Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML).

“We were just at a loss. We were looking at whether we could get her to America. Then out of nowhere, our Consultant told us to give her a few days. We were introduced to our saving grace – Professor Rob Wynn up at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. We had a Zoom call with Rob and he explained that he thought he could save her. He told us it straight and explained that he was trying to open up a previously closed clinical trial as he thought he could save Bella’s life.”

“My partner and I had a choice to make – either we take a chance with the clinical trial and the additional transplant and she dies, or she suffers and passes away in her current state. It was a no-brainer – we had to do what we could to help keep our little girl alive”

So we went through with the transplant. We went up in June and we came out in September. There were a number of complications along the way and we spent several periods in critical care because of seizures she experienced throughout the treatment, but she pulled through!”

Bella is now eleven years old having spent her ninth, tenth and eleventh birthdays in hospital. She is currently in remission thanks to the amazing support from Professor Rob Wynn. She has recently received her third negative bone marrow results with her next one due in six months. She now returns normal blood results (upon diagnosis her platelets had a count of ten, she now has a count of over 300).

You can donate to the team’s challenge at https://www.justgiving.com/page/solihullwalk