Last year, Evie McClean had a stem cell transplant to treat her myelodysplasia – when she was just nine years old.
After a post-transplant infection forced her to spend her tenth birthday in hospital, supporters from across the world sent her messages of support – including celebrities as diverse as David Beckham, Cliff Richard and the entire West End cast of Elf.
Here, Evie’s mum Nicki talks about their experiences of stem cell transplant – and why she wants there to be more awareness about just how straightforward stem cell donation can be.
In July 2014, my daughter Evie was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia. She had been absolutely fine, with no signs that anything was wrong. Evie then lost her appetite and became pale and lethargic.
We took her to the hospital where tests revealed that Evie had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia. She then began intensive chemotherapy. It was a really scary time – not just the cancer, but the possibility of picking up life-threatening infections.
In October, Evie was in remission and we finished her treatment. After that, we tried to get back to normal. I found it quite difficult! I felt quite panicky at times – as the reality and enormity of the situation started to hit me.
In June 2015 we went on Evie’s wish with Rays of Sunshine to Florida. Whilst there, it became apparent that something wasn’t right. Evie was going to sleep a bit earlier than usual, and a couple of marks appeared on her leg.
On our return, we went back to the Royal Marsden; after some blood tests, we discovered that Evie’s platelet count was at just 70. A bone marrow aspiration showed that Evie had myelodysplasia. I had never heard of it, so I almost felt relieved that it wasn’t Evie’s leukaemia hadn’t returned. But then the doctors explained that it did mean Evie’s leukaemia was in the early stages of returning.
For the time being, they suggested a watch-and-wait strategy. I didn’t understand; why couldn’t we do something now? Evie’s consultant explained that if we treated Evie now, it might put her in a weaker position to have a transplant further down the line.
Evie’s stem cell transplant
In the meantime, Anthony Nolan was searching for a donor. After almost two months, we knew that we had a few matches: two 9/10s, and one 10/10 match a woman from the USA. The 10/10 match became Evie’s donor.
On Wednesday 4 November 2015, Evie had her stem cell transplant.
It’s very hard, when it’s your child. It just isn’t what you ever expect to have to deal with as a parent. You’re living in a world you knew existed, but which never really seemed real somehow.
You meet some really amazing people, when you’re with other families on a children’s cancer ward. The kids themselves are incredible – they can be in horrible pain, but ten minutes later they’re running around and laughing again.
I’m forever indebted to the donor – this person who’s given Evie a chance for the future. I wish people realised how amazing it is to help another human being like that. There’s a lot of misunderstanding around what donation actually involves.
Want to help save the lives of more children like Evie? Sign up to be a stem cell donor here.