Kate Raftery has two young kids, but her entire future depends on a stranger.

There’s someone out there who has the power to save Kate Raftery’s life. But right now, they probably have no idea.

The Adelaide mother-of-two has acute myeloid leukaemia. Her best hope of beating it lies in a bone marrow transplant. But the hard part is finding a match. There are 28 million people on bone marrow donor registries worldwide, but a match can only be found among someone of similar ethnic heritage.

Raftery’s mother is Hungarian-born, while her father’s family is white Australian, probably originally from England or Scotland. That greatly reduces her chances.

kate raftery bone marrow
Kate and her husband, Simon with their two daughters. (Image: Supplied)

But Raftery – mum to Asher, five, and Izzy, two – is staying optimistic.

“I’m hoping for the best outcome but I’m preparing for the worst outcome,” she tells Mamamia.

Raftery was diagnosed with leukaemia in the middle of last year. She’d been sick for months, and put it down to all the illnesses her daughter was bringing home after starting at childcare.  Then she got really sick.

“I had a really bizarre fever and a really horrendous cough,” she remembers. “I walked across the road at work and I almost couldn’t make it back – that’s how exhausted I was. I was having trouble breathing.

“I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought, ‘You’ve lost weight. You look really horrendous.”


Raftery went to her doctor, who sent her straight to emergency.

“We went to emergency and they said, ‘Yeah, we think you’ve got pneumonia,’ and we were taking photos going, ‘Yay, that explains it!’ Everyone went off to dinner and I was in the emergency room being treated with oxygen.

Then a doctor came down and said, ‘Oh, we need to talk to you about your blood tests,’ and that’s when they told me. So I was all on my own. I was like, ‘Leukaemia? Kids’ cancer? What are you talking about?’”

Raftery spent the next six weeks in hospital – first, getting the pneumonia under control, then starting chemotherapy. She was highly vulnerable to infection.

“For four of those weeks I couldn’t see my family because they were sick. My husband and kids weren’t allowed to come in. I guess that’s one way you wean a baby!

“Thank God for Facetime, because I don’t know what I would have done without that.”

When Raftery was allowed out of hospital, her kids were still sick, so she had to stay with her parents. Eventually she moved back home, just two weeks before Christmas.

“Nearly six months not at home with the family – it was really the hardest.”

Kate is suffering from a rare form of acute myeloid leukaemia. (Image: Supplied)

Raftery had a cord blood transplant, but her body rejected it. She relapsed earlier this year, just two weeks before her son Asher started school. She thought she would have to go into hospital for more chemo, but she scored a place on a drug trial, meaning she could stay home.

“It’s given me, so far, two months to be at home and to watch him at school.”

Raftery is still highly vulnerable to infection, meaning she’s in danger every time her kids get sick.

“Sadly, my own children are my biggest threat. I try not to kiss them, or have them at face level when they’re coughing in my face, but that’s hard when they’re super cute and that’s all you want to do.

“Obviously, I want to have time with them and make memories.”

Raftery’s doctors don’t think the drug she’s on will be enough to keep her in remission. That’s why a bone-marrow transplant is so vital. The best chance of a match with Raftery is someone who is, like her, of mixed Hungarian/British Isles origin. Even if the family’s origins are not Hungary, but a nearby central or eastern European country, it’s worth a try.

“All the borders changed a lot around places like Hungary, so who knows?”

Going on the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry involves having a small amount of extra blood taken when donating blood through the Red Cross. Even if you aren’t eligible to donate blood, you could be eligible to donate bone marrow.

Only one in 1500 people on the registry will ever be asked to donate bone marrow, and that process is just like a long blood transfusion. Raftery would love to see people of every ethnic origin go on the registry. They could end up saving a life anywhere in the world.

“On my Facebook I’ve got links to other people. You’ve got Tania Murphy in Middleton – she needs Croatian/Balkan/British Isles heritage. Then there’s a little baby, Austin, in the UK – he needs Polish heritage. There’s Valerie, she’s a five-year-old in the UK – she needs African/Caribbean heritage.

“Even if I don't find my match, even if someone else finds a match, it's worth it for that.”

To find out more about Kate's cause and bone marrow donation, please visit her Facebook page, or the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

Tags: cancer , health
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