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Boy’s poignant letter in hope of saving dad’s life

Peter McCleave with son Max
Peter McCleave with son Max

Most children write to Santa to ask for Christmas presents.

But Max McCleave wrote a letter to tens of thousands of people asking for something a bit more important than that – the gift of life.

Eight-year-old Max penned the plea on behalf of his father Peter, searching for a potential lifesaver.

“Just two years ago, I was fit and healthy and had completed a notoriously challenging Ironman Triathlon,” says Peter, 41, dad to Max and six-year-old Seb.

“I fell ill after the competition and what doctors initially thought was a bout of pneumonia led to me being diagnosed with myeloma, a blood cancer.

“I’ve been through invasive treatment including several rounds of chemo but now I’m relying on a stranger to help save my life – as I need to find a matching blood stem cell donor.

“Without this, doctors have given me less than seven years to live.

“I’ve teamed up with blood cancer charity DKMS to help me with my search and last September we created a campaign to register 10,000 new blood stem cell donors to the UK’s aligned stem cell registry.

“My family have been so supportive.

“Max desperately wanted to help my campaign, so wrote a letter urging people aged between 17-55 and in general good health to register and go on standby to potentially save the life of someone like me.”

Max wrote: “My dad Pete needs help. My dad has myeloma which is a blood cancer that I really don’t want him to have.”

He included a picture of the two of them when Peter had lost his hair because of his treatment, adding: “This is me with my daddy when he was first poorly. I liked his bald head as me and my brother thought he looked like Jonjo Shelvey and Newcastle United is our favourite team!

“Please help my daddy and sign up to be a donor. I love him and don’t want him to leave.”

Peter says: “It has been said in the past, probably justifiably so, that I can on occasion be a little unemotional.

“When I read this letter from my son, my reaction was far removed from my default setting!

“I could not be prouder of both my kids but when I read the letter, Max in particular knocked me for six.

“I hate the fact that Max and Seb have had to be exposed to this. Clearly their understanding of my situation is much greater than I appreciated and Max’s letter is his way of approaching it.

“I have had such mixed feelings since Max wrote his letter. Pride, love and sadness.

“When I read it I was so full of admiration and appreciation. I had not realised how much he had been taking on board, and not only that but coping with it, too.

“An eight-year-old!

“But your child should not have to contend with such issues and I feel guilty that he has to, that I am taking away his childhood.

“But look at the good he has done with that situation. He is being proactive and using what he knows as best he can and look at what he has achieved.

“Despite the reason why we are doing this, I count myself very lucky to have the family I do.

“I hope that I find my lifesaver so I can get a second chance at life and create more incredible memories with them.

“What Max and I didn’t quite appreciate was the impact his letter would have.

“We appeared on breakfast TV and radio shows, and the amount of support we’ve received has simply blown us away.

“After hearing our story, 10,000 people requested a home swab kit through the website we set up 10000donors.com or the DKMS website in 24 hours.

“This is the second-highest number of requests in such a short period of time in DKMS’ history, and the requests are continuing to come in.

“Over £20,000 was also donated to the charity to help cover the £40 cost of registering each new donor – which is incredible.

“This means that we have smashed the 10,000 challenge target and, since the start of the campaign, collectively over 18,000 people have taken the first step to become someone’s lifesaver.

“Incredibly, as a result of the campaign, four donors have already been identified as potential matches for people in urgent need, including a friend of mine.

“The results have blown me away. Never in a million years did I think we’d not just hit but surpass our target this soon.

“It just goes to show how generous people can be.”

For more information or to register as a potential stem cell donor visit dkms.org.uk