“Be brave, mum.”
These final, heartfelt words of a selfless Kidderminster man sparked a decade-long fundraising drive which has seen his family generate a staggering £140,000 for blood cancer sufferers.
Stephen Hayden lost his 12-month battle against acute myeloid leukaemia in August 2006. He was just 26.
Since then, dad Roy, mum Barbara and sister Amanda, of Chester Road North, have channelled their grief into helping other families afflicted by the horrific disease. And, as they approach the tenth anniversary of Stephen’s passing, the Haydens aren’t finished yet.
They hope the tenth annual Stephen Hayden Charity Golf Day at Wharton Park Golf & Country Club, Bewdley, on Friday, May 13 will see their fundraising for blood-cancer charity Cure Leukaemia soar past the £150,000 mark.
“I’ll never forget Steve’s final words,” said Barbara.
“It was around midday when he whispered ‘be brave, mum’. He knew he wasn’t going to make it. But he said it with a smile. Everybody who knew Steve said he always smiled.
I have taken those words. They’re the reason why the glass is always half full to me.
We had a choice. We could sit there, sulk and allow Steve’s passing to ruin our lives.
Or we could get out there and do something about it – help other families avoid suffering the same loss we have.”
Blood cancer patients across Worcestershire and the Midlands have benefitted from the Haydens taking the second option, with their unstinting efforts producing tangible results.
The Haydens’ first breakthrough was raising enough money to pay for a research nurse, Kate Arthur, to be based at the Worcestershire Royal Hospital, where Stephen was diagnosed with leukaemia. Sister Amanda works there as a senior cardiac physiologist.
The family have also funded a blood filtration machine which boosts patients’ chances of overcoming graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD), a common condition in recipients of bone marrow transplants.
“It was GVHD that eventually took Steve,” said Roy.
“The machine hadn’t been invented when he was poorly, but it gives GVHD sufferers a much better chance of surviving.
We insisted the first lot of money we raised went on appointing a research nurse at Worcester. Kate is overseeing clinical drugs trials and helping to save lives.”
Devoted West Bromwich Albion fan Stephen inspired his family’s fundraising drive while he was still alive – after coming up with wacky ideas of his own.
He was keen to repay the man trying to save his life, Professor Charlie Craddock, the co-founder of Cure Leukaemia.
Professor Craddock, credited with saving the lives of Midlands footballers and leukaemia sufferers Stiliyan Petrov and Geoff Thomas, is a world leader in the fight against blood cancer and was awarded a CBE in January for services to medicine.
Stephen’s memory lives on at the CCH, with Professor Craddock’s consultation room renamed ‘The Stephen Hayden Room’.
“Not long after receiving his bone marrow transplant from Amanda, Steve was feeling better and suggested he should do a wing-walk for Charlie, which I think involves being strapped upright to a biplane mid-flight,” said Roy.
“We soon changed the subject!
Charlie did everything he could to save Steve. He pulled out all the stops and was devastated he couldn’t save his life.
Steve saw how hard Charlie was working to save him and wanted to raise money to help Charlie’s research. Steve idolised Charlie. Everything we raise is for his work.”
Stephen and his family raised their first Cure Leukaemia funds at an Albion supporters’ dinner in 2006, when a signed shirt fetched £930.
A further £2,000 was donated at his funeral, which was attended by several Baggies legends including Cyrille Regis, Bob Taylor and Graham Williams.
Eight months after his death, the Haydens and Stephen’s friends embarked on the ‘Stadiums for Steve’ Tour – a two-week trek visiting all 92 Football League clubs. Much of the memorabilia collected was auctioned off at the Stephen Hayden Memorial Dinner at The Hawthorns, with the two events raising almost £30,000.
The annual golf day and countless events held by Stephen’s friends has seen the fundraising total swell into six figures.
“Steve would be so proud – gobsmacked, even – at the money raised in his name,” added Barbara.
“But he would be saying to everyone: ‘keep going’.”
The Haydens’ immediate focus is helping Cure Leukaemia raise the £3million required to expand the CCH.
“The centre has come on so much in the last ten years,” added Roy.
“Steve would’ve stood a better chance now, because of the research.
Without Cure Leukaemia, patients wouldn’t have access to the new treatments that are coming in and it’s vital the CCH continues to grow.”
Barbara added: “This terrible disease affects people of all ages and we would love to see a cure found in our lifetime.
There are diseases which used to kill people that you rarely hear about now. Wouldn’t it be great if we could soon say the same about blood cancer? That more people survive than die from it? That it’s no longer a death sentence?
After what we’ve been through, that would be the ultimate, positive outcome.”
To book individual or team places at the Stephen Hayden Charity Golf Day, contact Roy Hayden on 07940 901207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org