Double tragedy inspires University student to give back

A STUDENT coming to terms with the death of his mum and brother is embarking on a series of challenges.

Andy Turnbull studies MSc Sport & Exercise Science at the University of Sunderland

ANDY Turnbull, 32, from Castletown in Sunderland, is studying MSc Sport & Exercise Science at the University of Sunderland and is coach for the University’s Women’s Rugby team.

Andy, along with his partner Maddy and dad Rob have now founded Team Turnbull to raise money for the charities that looked after his mother and brother in the final few weeks of their lives.

It’s been an incredibly difficult last two years for the Turnbull family. Andy’s mum, Karen, was diagnosed with liver cancer in May 2019.

Andy said: “A scan picked up a shadow and doctors performed a biopsy. The results returned, and it was the news that we had all dreaded. Doctors were positive though and explained that even though the cancer was incurable and therefore terminal there was plenty they could do.

“With the correct treatments my mum could live a pretty normal life for the next few years.”

Over the following weeks she underwent a series of treatments which unfortunately failed, and the family were left with the heart breaking news that nothing else could be done.

Andy said: “During all this time my mum seemed as fit and healthy as ever and took everything in her stride. After Christmas of 2019 she took a turn for the worse and was in and out of hospital between January and March of 2020.

“She was discharged the day before my brother’s wedding and on 7 March she saw Dan and his wife Laura married. At the reception Dan and Laura also announced that they were going to be having a baby boy.

“My mum was very poorly for the wedding and a couple of days later was admitted to St. Benedict’s Hospice where we were told she had only weeks left. My mum asked to come home and she spent her last week in the comfort of her own home surrounded by family.”

Dan, Karen and Andy

Karen passed away on 23 March 2020, she was 52.

Due to lockdown restrictions the family were limited to just eight people at her funeral and were unable to hold a wake afterwards. This was especially hard as Karen was well-known and much loved. She worked for Hays Travel for 16 years, visiting many of the branches and making friends around the country.

Andy said: “My dad and my brother decided to hold a charity fundraising night in March 2021 to celebrate my mum’s life and raise money for the charities that had looked after her on the anniversary.”

Sadly, there was to be further heartache when Dan was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with leukaemia at the beginning of 2020.

Dan spent the first six weeks of the year in Sunderland Royal Hospital receiving treatment before being allowed home.

Andy said: “He was in and out of hospital over the next few weeks and was allowed home for his wedding. The wedding took its toll and Dan was admitted back to hospital a couple of days afterwards. He was in hospital the day my mum died and due to the lockdown restriction, myself and my dad could only visit him for 10 minutes to give him the news.”

Over the next couple of months Dan improved and in May 2020 he was given the news that he was in remission.

“The hospital recommended that Dan go ahead with a bone marrow transplant in order to greatly increase the chances of him staying in remission and in June he was admitted into the Freeman Hospital to start his treatment.

“Dan’s transplant was a success. Unfortunately, due to other complications Dan became extremely ill.”

During his time at the Freeman Hospital no one was able to visit Dan due to Covid-19 restrictions, not even his wife Laura, who was heavily pregnant at the time.

“Only in the week before Dan passed away were Laura, myself and my dad allowed in to visit him, but by this point he was heavily sedated and on a ventilator.

“Due to the sedation Dan was unable to acknowledge we were there. Laura gave birth in that last week, only two days before Dan passed away. He never had the opportunity to meet his son.”

Dan was only 29 when he died. Andy and his dad Rob decided to incorporate Dan into the fundraising night planned for Karen.

Andy wanted to do more fundraising in their memory and has organised a series of events and challenges.

He said: “So far this year we have organised a couple of raffles, a virtual bingo night and a virtual quiz as well as a having a family member complete the C2C miles. We have raised close to £2,000 already.

“We have a number of events planned for the rest of the year and even more still in the planning stage. Those we have arranged are the West Highland Way five-day hike, a 5-a-side tournament, a charity rugby game at Kingston Park, a beard shave, a weightlifting challenge and a big party night at the end of the year.

“We are also working on arranging a number of walks, a canoeing expedition through the lochs of Scotland, a 7s rugby tournament, afternoon tea plus many more and we are always welcoming more ideas in order to raise as much money as possible for these good causes.”

Team Turnbull have selected St. Benedict’s Hospice in Ryhope who looked after Karen and the Phoenix Unit based at Sunderland hospital as the beneficiaries of their fundraising.

You can donate to Team Turnbull at Andy’s Go Fund Me page here

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