Parents' heartbreak after son's Christmas Day leukaemia diagnosis
- Credit: Supplied by the family
When Ben Clanford and Lyndsey Gibson abandoned their Christmas Day celebrations to take son Alfie to hospital when he struggled to get off the sofa, they feared he had coronavirus.
But now, the pair, from Cromer, are living with every parent’s worst nightmare, after receiving the devastating news that 10-year-old Alfie has an aggressive form of leukaemia and faces months of gruelling chemotherapy treatment.
“Alfie had written to Santa to say all he would like was a Nintendo Switch, but not to worry if him and the elves couldn’t manage it,” Mr Clanford said.
“He had come down with a temperature, but, on Christmas Eve, he asked for an apple and some milk so we thought he was okay and would be his normal self the next day - especially when he saw Santa had been.”
However, with Alfie barely managing to smile at his brand new games console, or unwrap his other presents, his parents became increasingly concerned and, after calling 111 for advice, Mr Clanford headed to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital with Alfie and oldest son James, 20.
“They did tests there and took blood and, afterwards, we were having a cuddle on the bed and they asked if they could have a word,” Mr Clanford, 43, said.
Doctors had discovered that Alfie has acute myeloid leukaemia, a type of blood cancer most commonly diagnosed in adults, and that the pain he had been feeling down the side of his body was due to its effects on his spleen.
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The disease, which has symptoms ranging from fatigue and joint pain, to fever, weight loss and frequent infections, is treated with chemotherapy, as well as, in some cases, stem cell or bone marrow transplants.
“They took me into a room and I thought they were going to say he had Covid, not this,” Mr Clanford said.
Alfie, who is a pupil at Cromer Junior School, was rushed from Norwich to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, which offers specialist care for children with cancer and blood disorders.
With his parents reeling with shock and disbelief, the youngster was taken to the paediatric intensive care unit, where he was given his first dose of chemotherapy on Boxing Day.
After being given the news that Alfie would need to spend up to four months in hospital, Mr Clanford and Ms Gibson were offered temporary accommodation at the hospital’s Acorn House, but began to worry how they would manage financially once they needed to move out.
“Because of Covid, only one parent is allowed to be with Alfie at once and we realised that we were going to struggle – I even thought about selling the car,” Mr Clanford said.
Mr Clanford is general manager for an IT company based at Northrepps and his mum is a lunchtime supervisor at Cromer Junior. His sister, Amy, 24, is a teacher at Cromer Academy.
Reluctantly, Mr Clanford set up an online fundraising page with a target of £2,500 to pay for travel and more long-term accommodation in Cambridge and was “overwhelmed” when donations tipped the £6,000-mark within five days.
He said: “This is a very hard and emotional time for us all but we just want, and need, to be near Alfie for the next few months while he has treatment.
“We would like to thank everyone, we have been amazed by the amount of love, support and messages we have had.”
Although pleased his son is now receiving treatment in “the best place”, Mr Clanford admits to feeling a sense of unfairness at the cards his family has been dealt.
“It makes me wonder how can such a sweet and caring boy can be given this, especially on Christmas which should be a time for families and miracles,” he said.
However, Alfie is already showing signs of improvement and his parents are looking forward to him being moved to a ward, where they can give him a “proper cuddle”. To donate to the appeal for Alfie Gibson, visit www.gofundme.com/f/help-whilst-alfie-has-his-treatment