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Journalist dies days after being turned down for cancer cure drug trial

A terminally ill journalist has died aged 74 days after being turned down for a new trial drug which might have given him “a chance of a cure.”

Tributes have been paid to Bill Heine, who worked for the Oxfordshire Star before embarking on a long career with the BBC, and who also wrote a weekly column for the Oxford Mail.

In his final column, Bill told readers he had undergone tests to see whether he could take a first stage trial drug which could, potentially, have cured him – but was disqualified from using it after a heart scan.

Bill, who moved to Oxford from America to study in the 1960s, had originally broken the news of his leukemia diagnosis via the Mail in 2017.

His final column was published last Friday, and he died on Tuesday night.

Bill was also known in Oxford for his unusual house, known as the ‘Headington Shark’, which featured a fibreglass shark embedded head-first into its roof.

Bill Heine outside his famous 'shark house'

Bill Heine outside his famous ‘shark house’

In his column, he wrote: “I had the inkling of a chance of a cure – getting a new first stage trial drug. Having spent a couple of weeks taking various pills to get the cancer count down, the red cells up, and the Vitamin D and calcium levels all balanced correctly in my blood, to fit the parameters of the new trial drug, the last hurdle was to have a heart scan.

“This showed a small amount of fluid surrounding my heart, and this was enough to disqualify me. The trial company could, understandably, not accept a problem which might deteriorate further and could later be attributed to the new drug and skew the results.

“So this leaves me with nothing else. The trial nurse said ‘how unfair it is to have everything ready to go and at the last minute pull the plug’, and she’s right.

“My death was the next on the agenda with the pressing decision to make about being resuscitated or not when either my heart or lungs fail. This was a shock. However, over the weekend the cancer produced further complications and I found myself bed-bound.”

He added: “At the end of the day the home care team is precisely that, and my home is the family.

“It is a lovely and loving environment that makes the prospect of dying something that I can cope with; a time to let our boundaries down and be with each other.”

In an obituary for the Mail, Newsquest Oxfordshire production editor Marc Evans wrote: “Possibly his greatest legacy to his public will be the extraordinary columns he had been writing for the Oxford Mail, chronicling his battle with leukaemia.

“And I use the term ‘battle’ advisedly, because Bill declared full-scale war on the disease which went on to claim his life, never surrendering and always willing to go through whatever treatment, however painful, if it meant the possibility of a few more moments of life.

“He never missed a deadline, even if it meant dictating his copy over the phone from a hospital bed, or filing in the early hours of the morning when he should have been sleeping. Rest in peace, my friend. You’ve earned it.”

The Mail ran a live blog yesterday covering tributes which had come in for Bill from across Oxford and further afield, and encouraged readers to submit their own.

Among those to pay tribute was former Mail editor Simon O’Neill, who posted on Twitter: “So sad to hear Bill Heine has died. Oxford’s marvellous American friend and mine too. He deserves to be remembered for so much more than the shark house. God bless Bill.”

BBC Radio Oxford editor Tim Boswell said: “Bill was an integral part of BBC Radio Oxford for over 30 years.

“He was an outstanding broadcaster with the ability to connect with his listeners through his intelligence, razor-sharp wit, and above all, his passion for the city.”


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  • April 4, 2019 at 11:08 am

    I always thought The Headington Shark was Robert Maxwell.

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  • April 4, 2019 at 2:56 pm

    Sadly missed. He was at times a colourful, dedicated and eccentric chap and used to wear a bizarre decorated overcoat and shrugged off residents’ complaints about his shark in the roof.

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