Zac Oliver's Family On Crying Happy Tears After Raising £500,000 For Cancer Therapy

A mystery donor has helped them reach their target with a £100,000 donation.

The family of a four-year-old with a rare form of cancer have revealed their fundraising efforts finally surpassed £500,000 thanks to a huge mystery donation, which left them in floods of tears.

The anonymous person pledged £100,000 to the family who are looking to raise money to cover costs for a new form of cancer treatment available in Philadelphia, US. It comes just days after music mogul Simon Cowell offered £50,000 to the cause.

Zac Oliver, 4, from Telford, was diagnosed with a very rare form of leukaemia in March 2018 after different parts of his body - his arm, knee and wrists - started to hurt within weeks of one another.

The youngster has since undergone chemotherapy to keep the cancer from worsening, however his family are pinning their hopes on CAR-T therapy, a specialist treatment available abroad. The only downside is that the costs required to keep him in hospital while he undergoes the free clinical trial will set the family back £500,000 - maybe even more.

Zac Oliver
Zac Oliver

Zac’s grandmother Annette Oliver, 62, told HuffPost UK a “mystery man” phoned her daughter Hannah Oliver-Willets (Zac’s mum) on Monday and told her he’d read about the family’s situation and wanted to help by donating £100,000.

Initially Hannah, 33, thought it was someone joking around but it turned out to be a legitimate donation, which they received yesterday. When she asked who the man was (whose voice she recognised, so she believes he might be famous), he said: “It doesn’t matter who I am, the most important person here is Zac.”

Not quite believing they’d reached the target, Annette exclaimed: “This is our dream, this is everything we wanted. It’s Christmas, it’s better.”

Zac’s mum Hannah told the Daily Mail: “They have given us a massive gift - the gift of life for Zac, hopefully. But so did everybody else who helped us - the children who emptied their money boxes or sold their flapjacks at school cake sales.

“Words just aren’t enough for us to express how much we appreciate everyone’s help.”

Zac and his mum Hannah
Zac and his mum Hannah

Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler and footballer Jermain Defoe have also pledged money to the cause. Just this weekend Simon Cowell shared a video saying he was donating £50,000 and the family were beyond elated. “There were tears running down our faces, it was absolutely amazing,” said Annette. “We wanted someone to put their name on it, because once you put your name on it, people listen.”

Since then things have improved vastly for the family, who have finally met their target in less than five weeks. However the fundraising efforts aren’t over yet. “We’re still raising money,” said Annette.

She acknowledges that the costs to fly Zac over to the US, provide accommodation for the family and fund his future appointments haven’t even been touched: “This isn’t an easy pathway. We need to make allowances for the future.”

Zac lives with near haploid childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and it’s thought he is the only child who has it in the UK. “We were told this is the worst cancer to try and cure,” Annette said.

Having exhausted treatment options in the UK and after declining a bone marrow transplant due to the high risk nature of the procedure (“the biggest chance is he’ll die with it and it will be a very painful death”), Zac’s family are looking for answers abroad in the form of CAR-T therapy which could improve his survival rate.

CAR-T is licensed for use in the UK, however is not currently available as treatment hence the family’s desperation to take their son abroad.

With this therapy, a specialist collects and makes a small change to a person’s T cells, which play an important part in fighting infection and diseases. When the edited T cells are put back into the body, they then target the cancer cells.

“They put it back in and you’ve got World War III in your body,” said Annette. “It’s not an easy thing, it can kill you, it can damage you. Nobody knows how you’re going to react to it.”

For Zac’s family including mum Hannah, her husband Wayne Willets, dad Mark Garbett, and Zac’s younger brother Leo, three, this treatment option is their only hope.

Zac Oliver
Zac Oliver

Zac’s grandma Annette said she’s “astounded” by how the residents of Telford - and indeed, the world - have pulled together to raise money for Zac’s treatment. “We’ve never asked for any more than £1,” she said.

The family asked people to “wear red for Zac” to fundraise for the youngster and have since had 81 schools taking part as well as factory workers across the country and as far away as New Zealand and India. People have shaved their heads, held raffles, auctioned off prized possessions and more - all in the name of helping out. The family’s Just Giving page has also been slowly accruing funds.

Annette is in awe of her grandson’s fighting spirit: “He doesn’t know how dangerous it is, he knows he’s poorly and that he needs very special medicine.

“He’s got a hole in his chest with three tubes hanging out, he calls them ‘the wrigglies’.”

Every week he has to go to hospital in Birmingham where he’s given general anaesthetic and injections. He’ll often have chemotherapy in Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital or at home, administered by his mum.

He hasn’t eaten properly in about five months, his grandma said, “because everything tastes vile, because he’s vomiting”. Often, he has to have a tube down his throat to eat.

There are times when he’ll be really ill, but there are other times when he’s just like any four-year-old, rolling around and play fighting with his younger brother.

Every day the four-year-old tells his grandma: “Nanny, tomorrow I’ll be better.” With £500,000 accrued in just under five weeks, things are finally looking hopeful for the youngster. Next stop: Philadelphia.

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