Tony pleads on behalf of his late wife’s legacy

December 03, 2017

Tony Aquino and Sandra Cartwright are pleading for more bone marrow and blood donors. Photo by Luke Hemer.

IF DEBBIE Aquino was alive today, she would be pleading with the Echuca-Moama community to donate bone marrow and blood in an effort to save the lives of blood cancer sufferers.

But she isn’t and so her husband Tony is continuing her legacy.

‘‘Debbie truly believed she would be doing this herself — reminding people to give blood and bone marrow,’’ Tony said.

‘‘Debbie and I often spoke about making people aware of this issue which is why I am pushing it now.

‘‘People often forget about donating blood and bone marrow at this time of year, but it is so important and much needed because sick people continue being sick over Christmas.’’

Debbie died 12 months ago after a 16-year battle with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia — a cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow.

Diagnosed at 39, the Moama woman died from what is often called an ‘old person’s disease’ at just 55.

‘‘When Debbie walked into a room, the place would light up,’’ Tony said.

‘‘We were together for 37 years and she had a smile on her face every day. She was stunningly beautiful.’’

And her beauty was more than skin deep.

‘‘Three weeks before she died, she gave blood for research. They took six vials of blood from her and then less than 24 hours before she died, she did it again,’’ Tony said.

‘‘She gave right up to the end.’’

Despite having a 100 per cent perfect match on Debbie’s bone marrow, it didn’t graft but she went on to live for another five years.

‘‘Without donations, Debbie wouldn’t have been here for so long,’’ Tony said.

‘‘She was a massive fighter. The doctors couldn’t believe it.’’

So when Debbie died, on November 27, 2016, Tony said it was a huge shock.

‘‘I think the doctors told me about six times that she wouldn’t make it through the night, but she always did,’’ he said.

During Debbie’s final years, she met Sandra Cartwright who became a huge support to her and Tony.

Sandra was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in November 2010.

Not only was she lucky enough to survive her bone marrow transplant, she was luckier to even receive it.

None of her three siblings was a match, but someone on the bone marrow register was.

After one week of chemotherapy, which reduced her cancer to 6 per cent, and a week of full body radiation to kill off all the bone marrow in her body, Sandra underwent the transplant on August 12, 2011.

Six years on and the Echuca mother-of-two is cancer free.

‘‘I wouldn’t be here without it,’’ she said.

That is why she is appealing to people to join the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry.

‘‘Being on the BM register could mean the difference between life and death to someone needing a transplant,’’ she said.

‘‘People may never be contacted once on the registry but then out of the blue one day they get a call to help someone live, maybe someone like I was with a very young family.

‘‘It’s one of the few transplants where no-one has to die to donate or you have to lose an organ yourself to help. So next time when donating blood put your hand up to register, help save someone’s life.’’

Only one in 1500 donors will be asked to donate for a patient requiring a transplant in any given year.

For information about joining the bone marrow registry, go to or call Australian Red Cross Blood Service on 131495.

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