'It felt good to get rid of a big bag of medicine' 

Bridie Burrell was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia during the Christmas school holidays in 2004. She had a bone marrow transplant the following year. 

“During school term, I felt completely healthy. But during the holidays, just before the new year, I experienced dizziness and walking to the bathroom felt like I’d run a marathon. I thought it was a cold, but when I turned a bit greenish and didn’t eat for a few days, my parents sent me to the GP.”

Bridie’s GP suspected flu, but because her grandfather had diabetes, he ordered a blood test. “During the testing, I fainted and ended up in the hospital for three weeks. I received three units of blood in the first 12 hours because my haemoglobin level was so low.”

Bridie had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a blood disease that develops when the white cells of the blood go into overdrive, dividing too fast and overproducing.

Six months of intensive chemotherapy followed, which had a number of side effects. Bridie lost her hair and appetite, and she felt tired and sick all the time.

“The steroids I was on made me eat like a pig on some days. I also got upset very easily. If I woke up early in the morning and no one was up yet, I would cry.”

Doctors then discovered that Bridie’s chemotherapy was not working and told her she needed a bone marrow transplant. Nobody in her family was a match, so doctors searched the international bone marrow registers. Luckily, a match was found four months later and Bridie had her transplant in 2005.

But Bridie's recovery was not without its problems.

“Shortly after I was discharged, I had to go back into hospital for an emergency operation for septicaemia. Then I went to hospital again for two months to be treated for pneumonia.”

Bridie lost not only her health but also her way of life while her treatment was going on. She could no longer take part in her much-loved netball or hang out with friends because her parents worried about her health. It was a lonely time.

Today, things are looking much better for Bridie and she’s beginning to get back to her old life. She’s catching up with friends and her father has built a swimming pool in the garden so she can start exercising again and build up her strength.

She was previously on a cocktail of 14 different drugs, but is now on three. “I was emptying a cupboard full of drugs with my dad and I said, ‘This is such a milestone, we should have a party!’ It felt good to get rid of a big bag of medicine.”

“There’s a video of me recorded after the transplant, and I looked miserable because I thought the illness should have ended, and it hadn't. Looking back, I really should have been more grateful that I got a match. Donors are heroes in their own right, and they probably don’t realise what a big deal their act of giving is to those who receive it.”

Page last reviewed: 14/05/2014

Next review due: 14/05/2016