Chris Corlett 12.10.1982 – 10.09.2000

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Bianca Perlotto 21/04/1987 – 10/02/2000
10th August 2015
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Chris Corlett 12.10.1982 – 10.09.2000

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chris-corlettCourage, charisma, strength of character, sincerity – whatever it is that makes some people inspirational and very special, Chris Corlett had it.

His fortitude and willingness to share even the darkest moments of his short life, awakened a flood of public support, which resulted in the birth of the Friends of the South African Bone Marrow Registry Foundation – now known as The Sunflower Fund, whose main purpose is to build up a database of 100,000 donors.

It was Chris Corlett’s wish that the Registry develop and grow, so that future leukaemia sufferers may have the opportunity to live a healthy life.

His mother, Tina Botha, now the CEO of The Sunflower Fund, is dedicating her life to making her son’s wish come true.

 

Live through the rain to see the rainbow – by Chris Corlett (2000)

The following story happened after having received a bone marrow transplant in 1998 to try and cure the Acute-Lymphoblastic Leukaemia that I was suffering from.

It was Wednesday, I can’t remember the exact date but it was towards the end of March last year. I had spent the previous two days surfing the Glen. I was staying with a friend of mine in Camps Bay. So far the conditions had been absolutely shocking, it was only on the last day where the surf picked up and I managed to snap my leash. The routine blood test, which I had to leave the beach for, had some very scary outcomes. It was a different day, something wasn’t right. I sat waiting for the results, so that I could leave the horrible place as soon as possible. I waited.

My head felt as if it had just been crushed between a two-ton truck and a concrete wall. The results had come back, and I was being called in to see my doctor. This was not normal at the stage that I was in during that time. Blood tests were in and out, just a quick prick. I was told to take a seat. I sat there with about a thousand questions flying into my mind, something was definitely wrong. I don’t remember how he started to tell me, but I seem to remember some of it, probably all of the things that I had no intention of hearing. The first was that I had somehow relapsed and the leukaemia was back in my bone marrow, the second was that I had to make a choice. Now a choice is something normally between something good and bad or easy and uneasy. The choice that I had to make wasn’t a choice, it was something else. I had to make the choice between living and dying. When I speak about living you have to understand that this too is not in fact living either, as there is still the small chance of you dying, due to relapse during treatment. So I told them I would think about it.

After an afternoon in my own bedroom, lying upon my bed thinking about the most arbitrary thoughts, I had managed to come up with an answer to the choice I had to make. So I went back to the hospital went straight to my doctors consulting room and told him what I had decided, he told me that he understood and that he would do everything to help me. I arrived back home that evening, had supper on my own, I think I felt like I still needed to think about what I was doing. Later in the evening I lay in bed, turned the light off and began to think some more and about the nightmare I was about to relive.

The months past, it was now August, Lisa and I met for the first time outside her house, our mothers had been working together recently and so we bumped into each other. The first time we met we spoke for two hours straight; we seemed to connect with one another. I had almost finished my torturing chemotherapy, but was beginning to lose hope for myself, I would be transplanted in a month and I already knew what was going to be happening. Lisa and I continued to see each other as friends, then I went in for the transplant. She still came to visit me with restricted visits, and it was on my birthday that our relationship truly started.

Suddenly life had seemed to change, I was fighting for something again, life had a whole new meaning to it and the smallest things seemed to become so special. We saw more and more of each other. Over a weekend in November, Lisa and I went to stay in Scarborough together, I had not been to this beach in almost a year, it was my special place. I remember watching the sunset with her one evening; we held each other and said nothing, both of us happy in each other’s presence. My treatment was finally complete; I had lived through the rain again and was beginning to see the rainbow. Life was perfect to me at that time, nothing else mattered and it was only going to get better. That was when I told her, that no matter what happens, We would always have the sunset.

Chris Corlett
Grade 11r Reddam

(Written by Chris about his second bone marrow transplant, which took place in September 1999. Chris relapsed again in April 2000 and had a third transplant in August 2000. Chris Corlett passed away after a 3 year battle on 10 September 2000)

Chris’ Story – by Chris’ Mother, Tina Botha (written in November 2000)

chris-corlett-02He was very special and extremely brave and has taught us all lessons and we all miss him so much.

Chris was first diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia in August 1997 while he was in Grade 9 at Westerford High School in Cape Town. He underwent 6 months of gruelling chemotherapy and full body radiation. This was the beginning of a 3-year nightmare. In February 1998 he had his first bone marrow transplant. This was an autologous transplant with a harvest from his own blood as there were no compatible family donors and they were not doing unrelated transplants at that stage. By July 1998 Chris was back at school. He had managed to pass Gr 9 and move on to Gr 10 and a healthy future. During this time he even travelled to Durban to the “Gunston 500” surfing championships with “Reach for a Dream“.

He began his Grade 11 year at Westerford, full of hope with a lot of plans for the future, art and graphic design always being the most important.

The bubble burst in March 1999 when he suffered a relapse. The leukaemia was back with a vengeance and Chris had to decide whether he wanted to give up or fight back and try again. The worst thing was that Chris had been through hell and now he knew exactly what to expect if he decided to do it again. As only Chris could do he decided to tackle it head on and began another 6 months of tortuous treatment. This time Chris had to have an unrelated matched donor transplant. This meant we had to find a match for him and we only had 6 months to do this. This was when we realised the terrible state that the South African Bone Marrow Registry was in.

Eventually after much publicity, doing endless blood clinics and searching the international databases, a donor was found in Natal and Chris underwent his 2nd bone marrow transplant in September 1999. It was during this time in isolation that he painted his “Sunflowers of Hope“, which is hanging in the Sunflower ward at Constantiaberg today in memory of Chris. The support Chris had from his friends at Westerford was amazing. They truly kept him motivated and gave him the will to live. This was also the time he met his girlfriend, Lisa, who supported him through the worst time of his life. She meant so much to Chris and I am so grateful for what she was able to do for him.

This time we all really felt that it would work. He had found a donor and things were looking good. This was about the time that Chris read about a wonderful new school opening in Tokai called “Reddam House”.

He convinced me that he really needed to move to a new school at this point as he would have to repeat Grade 11 due to all the work he had missed and all his friends would be moving on to their final matric year. This would have been very difficult for Chris and I agreed that the move would be a good idea. He wrote and applied for a scholarship, which was given to him based on his incredible artistic talent in both art and graphic design. I am sure his incredible strength of character also had something to do with being accepted.

The move to Reddam was fantastic for him. He began his 2nd Grade 11 year in January 2000 with new energy, new friends and great future prospects. I also decided to apply for the position of P.A. at Reddam and moved Tarryn and Jason as well. The future was really looking bright for all of us. For the first time in 3 years it felt as though it was really all behind us and we could start re-building our lives and living again.

But this was not to be, and in April 2000 Chris suffered his 2nd relapse and the whole process started again. Chris was given an unenviable choice – another transplant or 3 weeks to live! Again it was Chris’s decision to carry on and we all supported this 100%. He said: “I still have so much I want to do and three weeks is just not long enough“.

This time we had to again search for a donor and Chris was put into immediate isolation in the Constantiaberg Bone Marrow Unit. The chemotherapy started again and Chris really battled. He developed complications such as mucor, which was also life threatening in his condition. I cannot describe the pain of watching someone you love so dearly suffer so much. Unless you’ve been there, you have absolutely no idea of the suffering endured from high dose chemotherapy and all the other antibiotics, anti-fungal drugs, steroids, trial drugs, etc.

By July 2000 Christopher needed to get home and his Professor allowed me to nurse him at home full time. He wanted me to try and strengthen him mentally as his moral was down and he needed to prepare for transplant, which was now urgent. I ran a complete hospital at home, doing all the drips, bloods, platelets, and dressings on a daily basis. I travelled back and forth to the hospital with blood samples to get lab reports and keep his Professor updated. Those were the most amazing three weeks we had. Chris was so happy and doing so well. He was able to see his sister, Tarryn and his baby brother, Jason who were not allowed into the isolation ward at the hospital. The family was together again and everyone was happy and Chris was thriving. Sometimes I just wish I could have kept him there forever and not gone back to hospital but this was not possible. Chris was feeling so strong and positive and looking forward to a future and going to the “Red and Yellow” school to study graphic design and advertising.

They were the school behind the advert, which was on television to raise money for the Bone Marrow Registry. The students put this together after seeing Chris on “Carte Blanche”.

We found a donor in Norway and the transplant was brought forward to 8 August as Chris was in remission.

Very traumatic weeks followed as Chris fought bravely to recover. His kidneys failed and he was put onto dialysis. At the beginning of September Chris was moved into ICU and we were told that he probably was not going to make it! This was the most devastating news and the most traumatic time. We just loved Chris as much as we could and spent as much time with him as possible. The day before he died, his blood count lifted for the first time and the transplant was, in fact, a success. Unfortunately his body had just had enough. I was with Chris when he very suddenly slipped away. I was able to hold him and talk to him and tell him I loved him. His whole family was there and I will never forget that day.

Chris had amazing courage and he touched a lot of people all over South Africa. We all miss him terribly but I truly know he is in a better place, free of pain and suffering and very busy creating new “Sunflowers of Hope“.

The Sunflower Fund (Friends of the South African Bone Marrow Registry) are raising the necessary funds to continue the growth of the South African Bone Marrow Registry so that all our children have a better chance in the future in fighting life threatening blood disorders. We will keep Chris’s dream alive and aim to reach our goal of 100 000 donors on the registry!!

We cannot do this on our own and need the support of everyone, from large companies to the average man in the street. Together we can achieve this.

THANK YOU.

Sunflowers of Hope – A Painting by Chris Corlett

sunflowers-of-hope-paintingThe original of this painting was completed by 17 year old Chris Corlett in 1999, whilst being treated for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.

Courage, charisma, strength of character, sincerity – whatever it is that makes some people inspirational and very special, Chris Corlett had it.

His fortitude and willingness to share even the darkest moments of his short life, awakened a flood of public support, which resulted in the birth of the Friends of the South African Bone Marrow Registry Foundation – now known as The Sunflower Fund, whose main purpose is to build up a database of 100,000 donors.

It was Chris Corlett’s wish that the Registry develop and grow, so that future Leukaemia sufferers may have the opportunity to live a healthy life. His mother, Tina Botha, is dedicating her life to making her son’s wish come true.

Sowing the Seeds of Hope

The “Sunflowers of Hope” paintings, originally painted by Chris Corlett during his 2nd bone marrow transplant, are now hanging in transplant units around South Africa:

  •     Johannesburg General Hospital
  •     Rosebank Clinic – Johannesburg
  •     Southern Cross Netcare Hospital – Wynberg Cape Town
  •     Grootte Schuur Hospital – Cape Town
  •     Albert Ntuli Hospital – Durban
  •     Constantiaburg Medi-Clinic – Cape Town (houses the original)

A copy has been taken to New Zealand and now hangs in the Michael Torbeti Bone Marrow Unit in Auckland. This was taken over by Jennifer Kriste from Durban (her son-in-law has had a successful transplant there).

Another copy has gone to Australia and was presented to the BMTU at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne by Mr Shap, whose son had a successful transplant there.

You have helped to give me another chance at life

(The letter Chris wrote to the Bone Marrow Donor of his 2nd transplant – whom he was later fortunate enough to meet in person in April 2000, although by this time he had just relapsed and was about to start the whole process of chemotherapy all over again!)

20 October 1999
Dear J

Firstly I would like to say how sorry I am for taking so long to reply to you. It’s just that I didn’t want to write to you from the hospital, as I wasn’t feeling my best, and I naturally prefer to write to people from home.

It’s a little awkward writing to someone that you have never even seen, that means so much to you in the big picture of things. But I will see how it goes and do as best I can without sounding too strange.

I do not know how to begin thanking you for what you have done for me, You have to realize that what you have given me cannot be given by anyone else. You have given me another chance at life. Something that only a handful of people can do for someone in a lifetime. Soon I will be able to join my friends back at school and in sport, and I’ll be able to start living a normal life. It’s one week out of the unit today, and I’m feeling strong, I can’t wait until I can start doing normal things, and my hair should start to grow back in the near future. I will be housebound for a while until my blood counts and things all reach the normal levels, so I’m basically in semi-isolation at home for a while, and will continue to go into hospital for weekly checkups just to see how I’m doing and what progress I’m making. Unless I pick up an infection along the way, that would be the only possible set back, in which case I would have to stay in hospital until it clears. I still cannot believe that there is another person who has the same tissue typing as me. You should feel special as you have had a great purpose in life; you have helped to give me another chance at life. I thank you for what you have done for me, but not only me, also my family and friends.

I also wanted to thank you for the gift you sent me on my birthday. It fits and I like very much as I’m a surfer. I was very surprised to hear from you again, I appreciate your interest in me. Hopefully we can keep in contact and perhaps one day meet each other.

In the meantime I will continue to live my life, never forgetting the reason I am still around. Once again thanks for what you have done for me, it is something that I will never forget.

Thanks again
Regards
Chris