Blood brothers

This post is another of those chemistry-free personal ones; you’ve been warned.

My Uncle Jim died a month ago. He was 73. We can debate whether 73 years is a decent age or not at which to shuffle off this mortal coil, but for someone who was not expected to make it past his teens when he was born, I think he did pretty well. Jim is the one on the right in the photo below; in the middle is my Dad and on the left is their older brother, my Uncle John.

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I was given this photo just over a week ago at Jim’s funeral and its significance has only really dawned on me in the last few days. There were five brothers in all (and one sister, but she lived only for six weeks or so), but Jim, John and my Dad shared another bond — they were all haemophiliacs. If you’re not familiar with haemophilia, the one-sentence summary is that it is a genetic disorder that affects the ability of a sufferer’s blood to clot: this is obviously not a good thing — if you start bleeding it’s quite important that you subsequently stop bleeding at some point in the not-too-distant future (if you want to know more, here’s the Wikipedia article). Any sons born to a mother who is a carrier of the disease have a 50:50 chance of inheriting the disease or not — it boils down to which X chromosome they get. Of the five brothers born to my paternal grandmother, three drew the short straw and two got lucky — the genetic dice did not fall kindly for my Dad’s parents.

Both Jim and my Dad were born while Europe was in the throes of the Second World War (John arrived before it all kicked off) and haemophiliacs born at this time were not expected to make it out of their teenage years. Nevertheless, there I was at my Uncle’s funeral just over a week ago marvelling at the fact he’d made it to 73. Uncle John died a few years back now, but I’m pretty sure he made it to his mid-50s before being struck down by cancer. My Dad? Well, I’ve blogged about this before — he died at 48, but if it hadn’t been for the contaminated blood transfusion which led to HIV and then AIDS, perhaps he’d still be around. Nevertheless, all three of them made it well beyond their teenage years — something to be thankful for in all of this.

Anyway, back to my Uncle Jim. I wanted to write something because something deserves to be said about the way he lived his life. Faced with a chronic (and serious) medical condition he was never going to lead a normal life, but he was one of the most cheerful people I have had the pleasure of knowing. From what I saw, he was happy with his lot and he just got on with it. Although he arrived into the world — and departed from it — in the same small family bungalow; born and died no more than a few yards apart I suspect, those 73 years inbetween were lived well and he brought happiness to many, myself included. Rest in peace Uncle Jim.

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