In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow.
In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow. Matthew McInerney

LISTEN: Fitness trainer tells of battle against leukaemia

AUSSIE RULES: Sitting in a Brisbane hospital, his makeshift home for nine months as he underwent intense treatment for leukaemia, Michael Walsh faced the fact he may never become a husband, father or see his young nieces grow up.

A return to the footy field was the furthest thing from the fitness trainer's mind.

Before, it was all he lived for, hitting the field with his mates, first at his Victorian town Kyabram, located in the heart of the Goulburn River Valley 200km north of Melbourne, before a move to Hervey Bay early last year allowed the fitness trainer to link with Bay Power.

He played a handful of games for the club, but the May 13 clash against the Cats at Gympie - in which Walsh kicked two goals as the Power won by 34 points - was the last time he played for the club.

 

AFL - Bay Power V. Maroochydore. Michael Walsh (Power).
AFL - Bay Power V. Maroochydore. Michael Walsh (Power). Alistair Brightman

That Saturday afternoon at Six Mile Oval is when his entire life changed.

"We were undefeated for the first four games then I left and they started losing," he said.

"It was good fun.

"The last game I ended up bruising really, really bad, and thought I should get a blood test. That's when I found out."

It was after that last game, a 13-point win against The Waves in Bundaberg, the bruising Walsh sustained reached a point where he decided to get a blood test.

"I always bruised up as a kid but we always thought it was me falling over and being rough, but we never thought it was something serious," he said. "For the seven years afterwards they said I'm all right.

"I was probably naive, I thought I'd be right, I just bruise, but it got progressively worse. I got the test on Friday afternoon before the Gympie game, and he rung me and said my platelets are at 12, we need to get you in somewhere.

"I thought I'd play one more game of footy then tell Mum and Dad."

 

In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow.
In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow. Matthew McInerney

A normal platelet count is between 150 and 400.

"They called me up and said I better get to hospital," he said.

Walsh was referred to a Brisbane hospital, where he spent the next nine months in a battle with leukaemia.

But for Walsh, it didn't hit home until an early meeting with a haematologist.

"When me and (Walsh's partner) Phoebe were in the interview, we went through the whole appointment and at the end (the haematologist) said 'I know you thought it was part of life because you've had it for so long but it's really serious," Walsh said.

"That's when it hit home.

"Phoebe started crying, Mum was upset, and I realised there's probably something wrong here."

 

In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow.
In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow. Matthew McInerney

Among the nine month hospital stay were days where the now 27-year-old believed they could be his last.

"I got down to one platelet and that was pretty scary," Walsh said. "They did an Australian search to match platelet donors, and they found seven in Australia that were matched to me, and they were on a roster to keep me alive right up until my transplant.

"They told me I need a bone marrow transplant, and they found a donor who was a 100 per cent match in Canada. I'd love to meet her one day, she saved my life."

When he straps on the boots and dons the Power's teal jersey at Keith Dunne Oval today, Walsh will do something he, during his treatment, thought may never be able to do again: play a game of footy.

 

AFL - Bay Power V. Maroochydore. Michael Walsh (Power).
AFL - Bay Power V. Maroochydore. Michael Walsh (Power). Alistair Brightman

While he still loves the game, the fight for his life put everything else into perspective.

"Before this I thought footy was the be-all and end-all, but you realise it's not the most important thing. it's just something you do," he said.

"But it's also great, to do something I, sitting in hospital, didn't think I'd have the chance to do again.

"My fitness isn't too flash, not that it was beforehand, but I've got a few more blood cells so I'll be able to run further.

"Mentally it got to a stage where I didn't think I was going to make it and negative thoughts came in.

"I was thinking about how I'm not going to get married, not going to have kids, I won't see my nieces grow up, then you think you won't be able to work again. Footy is an add-on, it'll be great to run out again but it's not the most important thing but it's fun."

It is why he has started a major fundraiser for the Leukaemia Foundation, and why he will campaign for more people to donate blood and register as a bone marrow donor.

"You know the importance of it but you don't know how drastic it is until you go through it yourself," he said. "It only takes 30 minutes and you could save someone's life."

HOW YOU CAN CONTRIBUTE

Michael Walsh has at least two major targets: raise as much money as he can for the Leukaemia Foundation, and encourage people to donate blood and register as a bone marrow donor.

"I'm fundraising for the Leukaemia Foundation because, without them, we couldn't stay in Brisbane," Walsh said.

"Mum had to quit her job when we found out, I wasn't working, and dad had to travel back and forth all the time. We wouldn't have been able to afford accommodation near the hospital, and we had to stay there for 12 months.

"The foundation paid for everything - without them, nobody could manage or cope."

Walsh is working on auction items, including a prized Brisbane Bears jersey, and plans to shave his post-transplant beard on the one-year anniversary of the transplant: November 8, 2018.

Go to give.everydayhero.com/au/leukaemia-foundation to donate, or leukaemia.org.au/ to find out more about the foundation.

 

In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow.
In November 2017, Torquay man Michael Walsh was the recipient of a bone marrow transplant which saved his life. Now, he is raising money for the Leukaemia Foundation, and will play his first game of footy in more than a year for Bay Power tomorrow. Matthew McInerney


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