A Blackpool Olympian has become the oldest man in the country to undergo a bone marrow transplant.
Brave grandfather Alf Meakin, 75 – who competed at the 1964 Olympic Games – underwent the operation after being diagnosed with leukaemia.
The former sprinter endured months of chemotherapy at Blackpool’s Victoria Hospital before having the landmark transplant at a hospital in Manchester.
“I just feel very lucky and grateful,” said Mr Meakin as he recovers at his home in Cornwall Avenue, North Shore.
“I know I was unlucky to get the disease in the first place, but at one time they didn’t do a bone marrow transplant on anyone over the age of 50.
“Thankfully that age limit has gradually crept up.
“I feel very honoured to be the oldest person to have it because without it there would have been only one outcome.”
Mr Meakin became a well known figure in Blackpool when he competed in the Olympic Games in Tokyo and was a gold medallist at the Perth Empire Games in 1962.
He fell ill in April this year, and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia after going to hospital to have some sores removed from his armpit.
“I’d been on all sorts of pills in the months before because I was feeling very low and tired,” he said.
“I only went in hospital to have the sores lanced but ended up staying in until they could find a donor and do a transplant. I’ve now effectively got 99 per cent of the donor’s blood”
“That donor is a 20-year-old.”
Three months on from the procedure, all is going well.
“I’ve always believed that being active is the key to recovering from an illness, so within days of the operation I was walking around the hospital corridors, doing half-a-mile at a time,” Mr Meakin added.
“Now I’m home I still go walking every day and although there have been some very tough times, when I’ve felt dreadful, I am finally now starting to feel like my old self again.
“I used to have to go to hospital in Manchester every Tuesday and Thursday after the transplant but it is down to every Thursday now, so that has to be a good sign.”
Acute myeloid leukaemia is a cancer of the myeloid line of blood cells. It is characterised by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that accumulate in the bone marrow and interfere with the production of normal blood cells.
The transplant replaces the damaged bone marrow with healthy bone marrow stem cells.
But the intensive process can take a year to recover from.
Mr Meakin paid tribute to the medical staff both in Blackpool and at Manchester Royal Infirmary and to his family – including wife Joy, son Adrian, daughter Karen, and grandchildren Harry, five, and three-year-old Molly.
“They have been wonderful and have helped me though,” he said.
Despite his historic operation, Mr Meakin, who represented both Blackpool and Fylde Athletics Club as well as Thames Valley Harriers in his athletic career as well as stints with Rugby League sides Leeds and Blackpool Borough, doesn’t consider himself to have done anything special.
“There is nothing heroic about me, I am just trying to survive” he said. “There are many people in a much worse situation.
“I was very lucky to be given a transplant and delighted that at the moment things are going well.”