Dads Steve Walch and Richard Earl first met in 2019 when their sons, Harrison and Bobby were receiving treatment on the Cancer and Leukaemia Ward at Sheffield Children’s. This July, they were joined by friend and Town Manager, Paul Hurst as they jumped out of a plane to say thank you to the hospital that saved their sons lives.
Bobby Earl was 11-years-old when his parents noticed he had become really pale and was running much slower than usual during football. They took him to their local hospital and within hours Bobby had been transferred to Sheffield Children’s and was being looked after by the team on the Cancer and Leukaemia Ward.
Dad Richard recalls: “When we arrived at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, they ran some tests and told us that Bobby was really poorly, they said his body was virtually emptied of blood and there was a team waiting for us on the Cancer and Leukaemia Ward. Our whole world just collapsed.”
“The doctors told us they believed it to be leukaemia and they needed to move quickly but after further investigation, they discovered it was Aplastic Anemia and Bobby’s bone marrow had stopped working and that he would need a transplant to survive. We couldn’t believe it.”
Aplastic Anemia is a serious condition affecting the blood, where the bone marrow and stem cells do not produce enough blood cells.
Richard continued: “The search for Bobby’s bone marrow donor began straight away, we all got tested but none of us were a match. So, we waited for a donor to be found on the bone marrow register.”
Just weeks before Bobby’s diagnosis in April 2019, another family were admitted to the Cancer and Leukaemia Ward at Sheffield Children’s, the Walch family. Harrison Walch was 14-years-old when he was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.
Dad Steve explained: “Harrison was just a normal teenager, a healthy, strong lad. He had become run down with some bruising so we went to the doctors, we were transferred to Sheffield Children’s from there and that’s when he was diagnosed with leukemia.”
Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) is an aggressive form of cancer which meant Harrison required treatment straight away. Harrison had to have regular chemotherapy for six months on the Cancer and Leukaemia Ward.
Harrison and Bobby’s diagnosis, just weeks apart, meant that the two families crossed paths on the ward and in the most difficult of circumstances soon became a source of support for each other.
Steve continued: “I went into the parent room around a week after Harrison had been diagnosed and I saw Richard, Bobby’s dad, they had just been admitted and given Bobby’s diagnosis and I just said to him ‘I know how you feel, it feels like we are living in an alternative universe’ and that was it. We have supported each other ever since.”
Bobby and Harrison went on to have transplants at the same time with Bobby’s bone marrow donor being found and Harrison also having his first stem cell transplant in August 2019.
Steve said: “Our transplant isolation rooms were next to each other on the ward, I remember one night me and Harrison were playing on the Nintendo and I could hear Bobby and Richard playing the guitar next door. It’s surreal to think about that period of isolation now.”
Bobby and Harrison both spent several months in isolation on the Cancer and Leukaemia ward recovering from their transplants.
Bobby is now recovering at home, visiting once a month for check-ups and Harrison is continuing his treatment on the ward.
Inspired by the resilience of their sons and the care they have received from the staff on the Cancer Ward at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, Steve and Richard jumped from 15,000ft to raise money for The Children’s Hospital Charity.
Steve said: “Richard texted me and said we need to do something, and we both suggested the skydive. I’m not sure if we actually thought we’d go through with it but here we are. The way I see it is we are choosing to step out of our comfort zones with the skydive, the kids on the ward like Harrison and Bobby don’t have a choice. They are pushed out of their comfort zones, and if they can do that then we could do this.”
Jumping alongside them were Harrison’s older sister, Daisy, close friend Nathan Ennis and Grimsby Town Manager Paul Hurst. The group have already raised over £4,400 towards the refurbishment of the Cancer Ward at Sheffield Children’s.
Paul said: “When Richard asked if I wanted to get involved to raise money for renovations to the Cancer and Leukaemia ward, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. Having seen the impact on our friend’s family and hearing what Harrison and his family have gone through it, makes you realise how vital Sheffield Children’s Hospital is for so many people.
“If we can raise some money to help the ward create a space which enhances the experience for children and their families who spend time there, then it is certainly worth doing so, even if that means jumping out of a plane!”
The money raised through the skydive will support The Children’s Hospital Charity’s appeal to build a new Cancer and Leukaemia Ward at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, making the space bigger, brighter and more modern for patients and families.
The new ward will have a separate place for older children like Harrison and Bobby to break away from the ward, as well as ensuite facilities and space for a parent to sleep more comfortably alongside their child.
To support Paul, Steve, Richard, Daisy and Nathan who are taking on the skydive for Sheffield Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Ward please visit https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/thebigleapforward6