Win­ning the fight to save sick kids

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - VANESSA CROLL

AFTER be­ing told their daugh­ter only had bron­chi­oli­tis, El­iza and Dar­ren Kelly were hor­ri­fied to dis­cover Harper was bat­tling some­thing far worse.

After a month of look­ing pale and lethar­gic and suf­fer­ing from per­sis­tent cough­ing, the Kellys were told their al­most-two-yearold had acute lym­phoblas­tic leukaemia (ALL).

Now, more than one year after the worst day of their lives, the Kellys have rea­son to cel­e­brate — not only is Harper in re­mis­sion, she will soon be a big sis­ter.

“Hav­ing another baby was some­thing we were think­ing about try­ing for around the time Harper was two,” Mrs Kelly said. “But, with her be­ing di­ag­nosed a few weeks be­fore turn­ing two, we quickly put that plan aside.

“I think after all that we have been through, hav­ing a lit­tle baby, a lit­tle sibling for Harper, in our lives this year is go­ing to be re­ally won­der­ful for us all.”

While Mr and Mrs Kelly are be­yond re­lieved to have the hor­ror of the past year be­hind them, they are aware leukaemia is part of their fu­ture.

About 150 Aus­tralian chil­dren are di­ag­nosed with the ag­gres­sive form of blood cancer ev­ery year. Be­cause of re­search un­der­taken by the Chil­dren’s Cancer In­sti­tute, pa­tients get a tai­lored treat­ment pro­gram to be most ef­fec­tive while min­imis­ing side-ef­fects. How­ever, there is more work to be done to erad­i­cate side-ef­fects al­to­gether.

Be­fore the 1960s ALL was con­sid­ered in­cur­able. Today, cure rates are 90 per cent.

But re­searchers know chil­dren who sur­vive ALL go on to have in­creased chances of heart dis­ease, higher rates of neu­roen­docrine dis­or­ders, such as di­a­betes, and are at greater risk of de­vel­op­ing other types of cancer.

Pro­fes­sor Richard Lock from the Chil­dren’s Cancer In­sti­tute and his team are work­ing to change this.

“Chemo­ther­apy does a good job of tar­get­ing cancer cells but it also tar­gets other cells that are di­vid­ing, which is prov­ing to have is­sues into adult­hood,” Prof Lock said. “The cure is not enough. In ad­di­tion to cur­ing ALL, we need to de­velop drugs that al­le­vi­ate the ef­fects into adult­hood.”

The Kellys started the Harper Brave Face­book page to ad­vo­cate for child­hood cancer and cre­ate aware­ness with hopes one day no child or fam­ily will have to go through what they did.


Pic­tures: Tim Hunter.

Harper Kelly, 3, beat a cancer that was a death sen­tence for chil­dren just 50 years ago and (in­set) with her par­ents.

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