PM's aide in desperate plea to save cancer girl

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The Independent Online
Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, has made an emotional appeal for bone marrow donors to save the life of nine-year- old Ellie Merritt.

Louise Jury reports on the story of the little girl who is suffering from the leukaemia that killed both her grandmother and her father, John, one of Mr Campbell's closest friends.

Ellie Merritt is desperately ill in London's Great Ormond Street Hospital. She just lies there, Alastair Campbell said, with her red hair thinning and her bright smile waning just as her father once lay in ward B3 at Hammersmith hospital.

Her life could be saved by a bone marrow transplant, but her mother, Lindsay Nicholson, and her little sister, Hope, are not compatible and the chances of matching with an unrelated donor could be as remote as one in 100,000.

John Merritt, who worked for the Daily Mirror and the Observer, died aged 35 in 1992 while waiting for a suitable donor. He was a highly respected reporter whose memorable articles including exposing the barbaric conditions of Greek mental patients and even an NHS scandal from his hospital bed.

Driven by that memory, Ms Nicholson, 41, has launched a campaign in Prima, the monthly magazine she edits, to encourage more bone marrow donors. Mr Campbell has added his voice to those who cannot bear to see tragedy strike again. He said the only time Mr Merritt ever cried or asked "why me?" was when he spoke of his daughter.

Mr Campbell appealed to people to volunteer to be donors, whose tissue type details are kept on the database of the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust. "It may save Ellie, it may save someone else. Either way, the memory of a great talent merits a response," he said.

Ms Nicholson said: "To have lost my husband and for Ellie to have lost her father and to be plunged into this now is unimaginable. For me, the overwhelming thought is that there is someone out there who could have matched John and we didn't find them. There is someone who could save Ellie and we don't know who they are, but we have to try to reach that person somehow ... "

A spokeswoman for the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust said it received nearly 10,000 calls last week after Ms Nicholson first spoke out about her daughter's plight.

To see whether you are a suitable donor, contact the trust on 0990 111533.