THE experience of seeing his brother-in-law endure the traumatic process of a bone marrow transplant has inspired Hendrik Ketelaar to undertake a long-distance charity cycle.
Hendrik, from Ballinruan, Crusheen is to set off on Saturday morning to cycle 2,220 kilometres of the Wild Atlantic Way from Kinsale to Derry to raise funds for the Bone Marrow for Leukaemia Trust (BLMT), which supports people in Ireland who had or may need a stem cell transplant.
It’s a big “thank you” to the organisation that helped somebody very closed to him. His wife, Laura’s brother, Gary O’Callaghan from Shannon was a recipient of the BMLT funded life-saving support in 2015 and has since made a full recovery.
BMLT is the only facility in Ireland where an adult can receive a sibling or matched unrelated donor stem cell transplant. It does not receive financial support from the government and relies on fundraising.
BMLT supports research and provides accommodation and vital day to day care to patients and their families who live outside Dublin so that they can stay near to St James’s Hospital to continue their critical care and recovery without added financial worries.
Gary was a recipient of the BMLT funded life-saving care and accommodation five years ago and has since made a full recovery, Hendrik explains.
“I want to repay the help he got. Supporting this fundraiser will help the BMLT to continue their support to others who may require critical care into the future. With a target of €5,000, 70% of money raised will go towards BMLT and the remainder to Crusheen GAA Club where my three teenage sons are involved. The money will support the club’s development and continued focus on providing sporting opportunities for local youths,” he says.
Hendrick expects to compete the self-supported solo cycle in nine days. He’ll be bringing a tent, sleeping bag and a few spare tyres. He’s well up to the challenge as somebody who has been cycling since boyhood in his native Netherlands, which is synonymous with the pursuit, both as a means of transport and a sport.
“Like everybody in the Netherlands, I cycled everywhere so it was easy enough when I took it up again here in Ireland,” Hendrick says.
He’s a member of Aulax, a long-distance cycling club, that regularly has outings of up to 200k. However, he didn’t ride more than 400k up to 2019 but the club then completed a 1,200k round trip from Brest to Paris.
Working as an accountant as Goodman Medical in Galway, Hendrick also took to cycling in the city to avoid the traffic congestion.
“I started off doing around 5k and then pushed it to 10k and 15k and now, on a couple of days a week, I cycle from home to work on the old main road through Gort,” he says, adding he’s had “near misses” with cars fairly often.
Gary says it’s “absolutely incredible” what his brother-in-law is doing for BLMT. “Myself and my wife, Cathy are delighted he’s doing this fundraising cycle; we are supporting Hendrick and are very proud of him. We’re all behind him on this,” he says.
Gary recalls how he was diagnosed with a lymphoma – a growth in his stomach – at Christmas 2014. He was 48 at the time and working as a self-employed electrician.
“It came on suddenly. I felt unwell around Christmas 2014 and my doctor sent me for tests. Cathy phoned the Galway Clinic and within 10 hours of being admitted they knew what I had. I was sent for a biopsy and this confirmed I had a lymphoma in my stomach.
“I didn’t have an operation. I was treated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy and that was for about nine months. They knew from the start that I needed a bone marrow transplant. It was inevitable.
“All my family were tested as possible donors; sibling donors are the best. My older brother, Mike was a perfect match for the stem cell transplant. I was lucky and I owe him a lot.
Everything happened very quickly. Mike spent about two or three hours in St James’s for the donor procedure and on the same day Gary got the life-saving blood transfusion.
He says, “I don’t remember too much about it as I was out of it on medication. I wasn’t in pain afterwards.
“I was very weak for a while and then began to come around, bit by bit, it was slow. I was on treatment for a good while and the treatment killed off my taste and smell, but that’s okay now. I’m enjoying my food again.
Having made a full recovery, Gary took up employment at D&M Electrical in Shannon. Glad to put his illness behind him, Gary is now enjoying life to the full with Cathy and their two children, Elliot and Thanthra.
You can lend support to the charity cycle by visiting GoFundMe.com Hendrik’s Wild Cycle for Leukaemia and Youth Sport.