Sunderland man who lost mum and brother in heartbreaking double tragedy gives back in their memory
Having lost his mum and brother just months apart, a Sunderland rugby player is embarking on a series of fundraisers as he comes to terms with the tragic loss.
Andy Turnbull lost his 52-year-old mum Karen following a battle with incurable liver cancer in March last year
Just months later, his brother Dan Turnbull, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia, died from complications following a bone marrow transplant – having never met his newborn son.
Now Andy has founded Team Turnbull, alongside his partner Maddy Crook and his dad Rob Turnbull, to raise money for the charities which cared for his loved ones in the final weeks of their lives.
The 32-year-old said: “Everyone misses them both every day.
"It’s heartbreaking that Dan never got to see his kids grow up. Houghton Rugby Club and everyone who knew him have been really supportive and they’ve done him proud.”
In May 2019, Karen, who worked for Hays Travel for 16 years, was diagnosed with liver cancer.
After a series of unsuccessful treatments, doctors broke the heartbreaking news that nothing else could be done and after Christmas 2019 she took a turn for the worst.
In a second devastating blow, Dan – who played for Houghton Rugby Club – was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at the beginning of 2020.
The 29-year-old, who worked for Nissan, spent weeks in Sunderland Royal Hospital receiving treatment before being allowed home in time for his wedding.
“[Mum] was discharged the day before my brother’s wedding and on March 7 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,” said Andy, who works in the education sector.
“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."
She spent her final week in the comfort of her own home and sadly died aged 52 in March 2020.
Andy and dad Rob had just 10 minutes to give Dan, who had been re-admitted to hospital, the news of his mum’s death due to lockdown restrictions.
Devastated, Dan continued his fight and in May 2020 he was in remission. But doctors said he needed a bone marrow transplant to reduce the chances of the leukaemia returning.
The transplant was successful but due to other complications Dan became extremely ill.
Covid restrictions meant no one was able to visit Dan at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital – not even his wife Laura who was heavily pregnant.
“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,” said Andy, who is studying MSc Sport & Exercise Science at the University of Sunderland
“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.”
Team Turnbull was set up to raise money for St Benedict’s Hospice, in Ryhope, which looked after Karen and the Phoenix Unit based at Sunderland hospital.
Andy added: “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 just over £2,500 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.
"The fundraising has just snowballed, people who knew them both were getting in touch left, right and centre wanting to help. It shows just how loved they were.”