Sur­geons show hope is where the heart is

Child in a Mil­lion 8pm, Seven

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

ALEX Cle­mentson, 7, is a boy with a rare, hor­ri­ble dis­ease. He has Gorham- Stout syn­drome, more com­monly known as van­ish­ing bone dis­ease. Con­sid­ered in­cur­able, it first ate away at his lower jaw, al­most to­tally de­stroy­ing it. His jaw was re­built us­ing a metal plate and bone from his leg, al­low­ing Alex to eat solid food for the first time in two years, but the dis­ease re­curred, at­tack­ing his face and swelling the tis­sue to star­tling pro­por­tions.

Bri­tain’s Chan­nel Five has made an en­tire se­ries about chil­dren such as Alex and their dis­eases. Nar­rated by John Wa­ters, the pro­gram is ti­tled Child in a Mil­lion. There is an un­com­fort­able el­e­ment of voyeurism in the award- win­ning se­ries, as there is with all re­al­ity med­i­cal pro­grams, but Alex is prob­a­bly too young to mind much.

And his mother is a nat­u­ral on cam­era. Talk­ing in a broad Not­ting­ham ac­cent, she is ob­vi­ously be­sot­ted with her brave lit­tle boy. It is fas­ci­nat­ing to see how par­ents cope with th­ese de­bil­i­tat­ing and of­ten fa­tal con­di­tions. Alex had to have a breath­ing hole cut into his neck at one stage and his mother in­sisted on chang­ing the dress­ing her­self ev­ery day. He takes medicine via a tube in his stom­ach, and has en­dured pun­ish­ing six- week cy­cles of com­bined chemo­ther­apy- steroid treat­ment.

The other child in this episode, Matthew Banks, 12, had a se­ri­ous heart op­er­a­tion at Great Or­mond Street. Matthew is a New Yorker and the pro­gram doesn’t ex­plain who funded his op­er­a­tion. ( Alex is a Bri­tish cit­i­zen and his med­i­cal care was no doubt paid for by the Na­tional Health Ser­vice.) Born with­out a pul­monary valve, Matthew had open- heart surgery when he was two and a tiny ar­ti­fi­cial valve was im­planted in his heart. But the lit­tle valve was wear­ing out. His only op­tion in the US was open- heart surgery and doc­tors be­lieved it would prob­a­bly kill him in his weak­ened state. But at Great Or­mond Street, a sur­geon had per­fected a tech­nique for im­plant­ing a new valve via a vein in the leg.

Matthew, like Alex, has be­come ac­cus­tomed to a life of nee­dles and ster­ile swabs, nurses prod­ding and doc­tors ask­ing grave ques­tions. But Matthew’s prog­no­sis is good: the op­er­a­tion is a suc­cess and within hours his lips and cheeks are look­ing pinker. Within a few months he is belt­ing a base­ball and run­ning around a back yard.

His par­ents, too, are de­voted to their son: his fa­ther says he would give Matthew his heart if he could. Chan­nel Five man­ages to get the money shot: the sur­geon telling Matthew’s par­ents the op­er­a­tion was a roar­ing suc­cess. Both his mother and his fa­ther burst into tears.

Sian Pow­ell

Roar­ing suc­cess: The trip to Lon­don pays off for Matthew Banks, 12

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