Photo Gallery: ‘Miracle’ teenager Deryn Blackwell returns to Wayland Academy
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2014
It was a school reunion as unique as the student at the centre of all the attention – as a recovering Watton teenager returned to meet up with friends a few months after doctors said he would die from his illness.
When Deryn Blackwell left school more than a year ago to fight for his life in hospital, many of his classmates and teachers feared they would never see him again.
But just months after he was told he would not survive until Christmas, the “miracle” teenager was fit enough to return to his old stamping ground to enjoy a plate of chips with his friends in Wayland Academy’s dinner hall.
And as the 14-year-old continues his extraordinary recovery, this emotional “welcome back” was swiftly followed by hopeful “farewells”, as his family prepares for a permanent move from Watton to be together near his hospital in Bristol.
Deryn is the only person in the world known to have had Langerhans Cell Sarcoma and leukaemia at the same time.
He no longer has those two cancers but is now fighting aplastic anemia, where the bone marrow does not make enough blood cells for the body. That illness is now improving, as he is no longer relying on regular blood transfusions.
But with his body weakened by rounds of intensive chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants, Deryn’s mother Callie said his first concern about returning to school was how his friends had outgrown him.
She said: “Before the chemo he was always the tallest and the fittest and the quickest, but now he has got the body of a ten-year-old. As much as he loves seeing his friends, it just highlights what he has lost, so in that respect it’s very difficult for him coming back here.”
Deryn added: “It is more about the voices – their voices have all broken. That’s why I talk to girls more often now, because their voices don’t break – they still sound the same.
“It’s good to be here. When I was in hospital I was not really seeing a lot of people, and I was not on Facebook either because I didn’t feel in the mood to speak to anyone. I was just too ill. I was shut off, but I was choosing to be shut off.”
Last week, there was a symbolic moment in Deryn’s recovery when his Hickman line was removed – the intravenous tube through which he was given fluids, blood transfusions and medications,
“Everything is happening so quickly,” said his mother. “Two months ago I was planning his funeral and last week he was having his Hickman line removed, which means he is no longer on treatment. I said: ‘Hang on, two months ago, you said he was dying!’ There is no time to get your head around it.
“We are moving next week, so this is the last time he will see his friends for a long time. It is difficult for him to come in and say hello and goodbye all at the same time.”
During Deryn’s treatment at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children, the Blackwell family have split their time between Norfolk and a series of temporary homes in the South West. Although the teenager no longer needs to be in hospital all the time, doctors advised he should remain close by, so the family is packing up their Watton home and expect to move to Bristol permanently next week.
Deryn’s parents hope he will be strong enough to start his Year 10 education at a new school in September – a prospect he is looking forward to. He said: “No-one will know me there, so I have got a new start. I’ve always made friends really quickly, so I’m not worried.”
Deryn was welcomed into the school by principal Michael Rose, who said: “Words cannot describe it. It is just overwhelming.
“The last time I saw Deryn I shook his hand and wondered whether I would ever see him again. It is nothing short of a miracle, and to see so many kids around the dining hall is amazing.”