Marchant Barron is a Second Year Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University. But he is not your average student. In fact, he is not your average person. He is fiercely intelligent, full of warmth and affection for his friends and family, and – most importantly – a talented poet whose lyrical style frequently spills off the pages of his work and into his everyday conversation.
But conversation is hard for Marchant. He finds speaking near impossible and has to communicate via a qwerty keyboard with the support of his helpers. This is because Marchant has severe and complex cerebral palsy which results in near constant pain and frequent spasms making it difficult for him to control his body in the way he wants. The fact that Marchant is studying at university at all – let alone achieving excellent grades and making strong friendships – is a testament not only to the brilliant support he is given by his family and helpers but also to his own indomitable spirit and refusal to give up. ‘It is my way to be positive,’ he says, ‘without that, I would have died a long time ago.’
Cutting edge stem cell research in the USA has given Marchant and his family new hope for an easier future for him. Trials at Duke University in North Carolina have shown promising results in children with Marchant’s condition and it is hoped that the same outcomes can be replicated in adults. Marchant hopes that stem cell treatment could enable him to be freer from spasms and pain, and perhaps even allow him to use his voice to speak. ‘Many times in my life I have tried things – sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t – but I am a man who tries,’ he tells me.
But there is a catch. This treatment is not available on the NHS, and in order to receive it, Marchant will have to travel to San Francisco and his family will have to pay for the treatment themselves. Fleur Gill, a friend of Marchant’s, has set up a Just Giving page in order to crowdfund part of the cost of Marchant’s treatment.
In his own words, Marchant is ‘not a charity case.’ He is ‘a student who wants to live a student life.’ As his mother says, ‘this isn’t about changing Marchant to be someone else; this is about allowing him to be himself.’
Whatever the outcome of the treatment, Marchant is a force to be reckoned with, a dear friend who I cherish, and a light to look out for in the world of poetry. Keep writing Marchant, keep trying, and we will try with you.