'It's our last hope' - Boy with leukaemia to undergo stem cell transplant
- Credit: Ben Clanford
Being told your child has cancer is a moment no parent wants to experience.
But Norwich dad, Ben Clanford, said it was even more painful when he found out the bone marrow transplant which was meant to save his 11-year-old son’s life had failed.
Alfie Gibson was first diagnosed with leukaemia on Christmas Day back in 2020 after his parents realised something was very wrong when he struggled to get off the sofa to open his presents.
After taking him to the Norfolk and Norwich University hospital, Alfie’s parents, Mr Clanford, 44, and Lyndsey Gibson, 43, were given the devastating news that their son had an aggressive form of the cancer.
Alfie, who is a pupil at Cromer Junior School, was then rushed to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge and was taken to the paediatric intensive care unit.
He was given his first dose of chemotherapy on Boxing Day.
Things weren’t looking good for Alfie, after it was later discovered that he had a rare type of leukaemia and following this, the cancer had mutated.
That was when doctors told his parents that a bone marrow transplant was the only thing which could potentially save him.
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Alfie’s older brother, James Gibson, 21, was a match and offered to donate his bone marrow.
On April 12 last year, Alfie and his parents travelled to the Bristol Royal Hospital for Children to have the operation on April 23 - where they spent the next three months.
And soon after Alfie finally starting showing signs that he was getting better - they thought.
Mr Clanford said: “After the operation, Alfie seemed to be doing okay. We spent three months in Bristol and came home July 2. When we left Bristol we thought that was it.
"We still had to go to Addenbrooke's twice a week for tests and in August he seemed to be doing a lot better.
“His hair was started to come back, he was eating and he was starting to feel like himself again.
“But in September Alfie had another blood test. The doctors initially looked at him and said 'we think he is fine' and they would see us next week. But as we were driving home, they phoned us back and said ‘we have some bad news’.
“Hearing that was worse than when we got told he first had leukaemia. Our world fell apart again.”
Mr Clanford and Ms Gibson, who lives in Cromer, were told that the transplant had failed and Alfie’s cancer had relapsed.
“The bone marrow transplant hadn't worked due to the mutation he has,” said Mr Clanford.
“We were told that there was nothing they could do.
“It was that bad Alfie was put on palliative care. It was devastating. All of the family came up to see him because we didn’t think we had long left.
“But we didn’t want to give up.”
Just a few weeks later, the family – which includes his two siblings James, 21 and Amy, 25 - got the call to say a trial stem cell transplant operation, with high remission rates, had become available at Manchester Children’s Hospital and was Alfie’s last hope.
Mr Clanford, who currently lives with his son in Norwich, said: “Doctors said he might not make it but as a parent, what do you do? If there is a chance, we have to try. If we don’t do anything he hasn’t got any chance at all. It's our last hope.
“It’s tough. But I wake up every day, take a deep breath, put a smile on my face and try not to let it worry me.
“I’m not giving up. You have to stay strong and positive, especially for him. He is just looking forward to getting better.”
Alfie and parents are set to travel to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital this week where he will undergo a short course chemotherapy before his operation on Monday, January 17.
After having a year of his childhood ripped away from him since his diagnosis, if all goes well with the transplant, Alfie hopes to start high school at Cromer Academy by September 2022.
The 11-year-old is also looking forward to getting his new Shiba Inu puppy when he returns home.
What is a stem cell transplant?
A stem cell transplant replaces damaged blood cells with healthy ones.
It is used to treat conditions such as leukaemia which is a blood cancer caused by a rise in the number of white blood cells in your body.
Stem cells are produced by bone marrow - a spongy tissue found in the centre of some bones - that can turn into different types of blood cells.
A transplant involves destroying any unhealthy cells and replacing them with stem cells removed from the blood or bone marrow.
The healthy stem cells are taken from the blood or bone marrow of one person – ideally a close family member with the same or similar tissue type – and transferring them to another person.
A stem cell transplant will usually only be carried out if other treatments have not been successful.