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A child’s battle with leukaemia

THE Sydney-based parents of three-year-old Bella O’Brien, whose father Noel is from Cooraclare, have expressed both amazement and gratitude for the help and support afforded to them by the people of Cooraclare and the greater West Clare area during the time that Bella was treated for leukaemia.

Bella was diagnosed with leukaemia in late November 2007, when she was just 18 months old. At the time, her sister was only seven weeks old. Despite the devastating news that their baby daughter had cancer, Noel and Jo-Ann O’Brien were informed that the current cure rate for standard leukaemia is 80 to 85%. That is after a specific treatment protocol of chemotherapy, steroids and many surgical procedures over a two-year period.
Eventual cure is usually achieved five years after active treatment ceases. However, after absorbing Bella’s diagnosis, two weeks into this long journey, Bella was confirmed to have a rare and very aggressive type of cancer. She went from being one in 10,000 children who are diagnosed with leukaemia to one in three million. This means that the standard treatment would not work in her case and her chances of surviving became significantly lower and included her having a successful bone marrow transplant. The transplant process itself carries numerous life-threatening risks.
“We can safely say that the past two years have been the most difficult in our lives. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of low points followed by even lower points. For the first 15 months, Bella spent the majority of the time in hospital, mostly in isolation,” Noel O’Brien told The Clare Champion.
“She has undergone 38 surgical procedures, she spent 11 days in the intensive-care unit where she came the closest to losing her battle. All the medications and treatment became a way of life and while we all got used to it, we look back on those 21 months and realise how it totally absorbed our lives. It doesn’t compare to recalling how sick Bella was during this period. It’s now so obvious that while all the drugs were a necessity in her battle, they obviously just made her feel very sick,” he added.
The family passed a huge milestone last June as it was 12 months since Bella’s transplant. The 12-month mark is significant because it’s a positive sign that the transplant was a success. The risk of relapse is more likely to occur in the first 12 months after transplant.
“It seems like a distant memory since we were checking into hospital for the transplant but knowing that your child is about to undertake a procedure from which there’s a one-in-three chance she won’t survive is something that sticks with you for a long time,” Noel O’Brien reflected.
Bella finished the last of the immune suppressive drugs in August and in about six months from now, doctors expect her immunity levels to return to those of a healthy child.
“It will be such a huge difference to Bella and our way of life as a family. We will soon be able to mingle with friends again. We’ll be able to go to the shops as a family.
“We won’t fear Bella picking up a cold or other infection that could be fatal to her. We feel very grateful to have now reached a point where Bella is off all medications and is feeling well in herself. She is running, playing and generally behaving like any crazy three-year-old. It’s amazing to see, after watching our little girl be so very sick for such a long time,” Bella’s father reflected. Noel and his wife Jo-Ann were helped enormously by the support of their family and friends in Australia and West Clare.
“We always knew we had good friends but we think when times got tough, we really got to see how amazing our family and friends actually are. It’s even more amazing when a community on the other side of the world goes to huge lengths to help out. It completely amazed us and is something we couldn’t be more grateful for. If all goes to plan, we hope Bella will get to visit Ireland late next year and meet many of the people who have prayed so hard for her over the past two years,” Noel O’Brien concluded.


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