Imogen, 9, faces Christmas in isolation as she fights leukaemia
PUBLISHED: 15:03 28 November 2019 | UPDATED: 09:40 03 December 2019
The parents of a nine-year-old girl have told of their heartache as their daughter faces Christmas in isolation, hundreds of miles from home, while fighting leukaemia for the second time.
Imogen Roe, a pupil at Drayton CoE Junior School in Norwich, is currently on a ward at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children ahead of undergoing a stem cell transplant after chemotherapy was unsuccessful.
Her parents Dean Roe and Anna Dagless are with her, 250 miles from their home in Thorpe Marriott, after she was transferred there from Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.
Mr Roe said: "We're hoping this cures her. She's been in remission once after a two-and-a-half year fight when she was having chemo daily, and she was off school for most of that.
"She was back in January this year and only missed two days from then through to July, but a week before the summer term finished we noticed the rashes, blotchy skin and fevers.
"We took her to A&E and they thought it was viral to start with, but it kept getting worse and we were moved to Addenbrooke's to have a bone marrow biopsy. "That afternoon we were told it had come back and the treatment started the next day."
Chemotherapy was successful the first time Imogen was diagnosed with the disease, but was less successful this time.
"We were told that the chemo hadn't done enough in the first five weeks," Mr Roe said, "so it was decided that the transplant would be the best chance of curing this leukaemia once and for all.
"This is the only chance of her being cured - if she doesn't have this treatment then she won't get better."
People can often face long waits on donor registers, but Imogen's sister Charlotte was discovered to be a match.
However, further genetic testing proved them to be identical twins - a complete surprise to the family who believed them to be non-identical - and Charlotte was no longer a viable donor.
Miss Dagless said: "There's a 25pc chance that siblings would be a match so when it came back that Charlotte was we were thrilled. A couple of weeks later after genetic tests they found she has identical DNA so her marrow can't be used. We couldn't believe it."
Luckily, an umbilical cord donor was found in the US and Imogen is now in Bristol to undergo the gruelling transplant process.
Mr Roe said: "They call it total body irradiation, basically they kill off her old immune system.
"They gave her high-intensity chemotherapy and radiotherapy all within eight days. After the last radiotherapy she gets the transplant.
"Then we have to wait, and hopefully her levels start rising in a few weeks with a new immune system."
Despite everything that the nine-year-old is going through, the family says she is "always smiling" and remains in high spirits.
Mr Roe said: "She's always smiling. She never says anything to people in the hospital, but she'll give them a little smile to say she's happy. That's just how she is. She just doesn't worry at all.
"She never moans - just gets a little upset at times, that's all."
The family have created Facebook page 'Gocrackersforimmy', where people can record themselves attempting to eat as many dry crackers as possible in a minute to raise awareness of the Anthony Nolan campaign and DKMS.
Both charities campaign to highlight the importance of joining the bone marrow register.
Miss Dagless said: "These causes are so important to us. We know how lucky we are to have found a donor and want to help others do the same."
Imogen's parents are both currently off work to help care for their daughter. They know her road to recovery will be long, and they face spending Christmas away from the rest of their family.
Mr Roe said: "Anna will stay here full-time right through until we're discharged from Bristol, which could be around March next year. The plan is for me to go back to Norwich twice before Christmas to see our other two children, who are living with their grandparents in Fakenham. It's upsetting for everyone."
Being off work also means money is tight, but a GoFundMe page has raised more than £5,500 so far to help fund their living expenses.
"It's amazing the help we've had," said Mr Roe, "some people we don't even know have seen her story and just donated - it's incredible."
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/f/go-crackers-for-immy.