It was a near thing for Barry Armstrong, but you’d never know that today. More than a year ago, the 22-year-old from Chipman, New Brunswick, discovered he had leukemia, cancer of the blood cells in his bone marrow. There followed a huge outpouring of sentiment and hard cash as Barry’s fellow villagers rallied to send him to Seattle, Washington, for a rare—and expensive—bone marrow transplant operation which could save his life (Maclean’s, April 23,1979).By early last summer, Barry was back home recuperating, and his progress has been steady ever since. He is so healthy now that he has returned to his old job in a Chipman brick plant and is even making plans to be married later this summer.
“When you see Barry going today, and how he’s one of the first to respond to a fire, it’s really rewarding,” says fellow volunteer fireman and family friend Vernon Bishop. He was the one who launched the fund-raising last spring within hours of hearing of Barry’s diagnosis. Soon he had money pouring in from individuals, schoolchildren, businesses, fire departments and legion branches. People from as far away as Inuvik, Northwest Territories, and Australia contributed, and the drive finally topped $99,000. “When you need them,” says Myra Armstrong, Barry’s mother, “Chipman people come through.”
So far the villagers have paid out more than $60,000, and medical bills are still coming in. Bishop, however, is confident that the balance, which is being held in an interest-bearing bank account, will cover the remaining charges as well as Barry’s annual return trips to Seattle for checkups.
What considerably improved Barry’s chances in the operation was the fact that he had an identical twin, Gary. Healthy bone marrow could be extracted from Gary and used to replace Barry’s cancerous marrow (source of the crippled blood cells) with minimal risk of incompatibility. Still, it has been a remarkable recovery for a young man who was told when he got to Seattle last spring that, without the operation, he had no more than three months to live.
Ever cautious, the American doctors (who still require marrow samples from Barry every four months) have told him it will be September before they consider him entirely out of the danger zone. “I’m not a bit hesitant to say things will be all right,” says Barry. Last winter he curled, and he and Gary even took a scuba diving course in Moncton. This summer he’ll spend his spare time building a house. And on Aug. 9, he’s getting married.
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