A seven-year-old ‘miracle’ girl who was diagnosed with terminal cancer returned to school yesterday – just three-months after her mum donated part of her liver in a life-saving operation.
Lydia Warner defied the odds to beat pancreatoblastoma – a one-in-a-million condition which affects one child every two years in the UK.
Medics told heartbroken parents Kate, 35, and Paul, 39, there was nothing they could do after finding a tumour on Lydia’s pancreas near the main blood vessels of the
Further tests showed the cancer had spread to Lydia’s liver, where a cluster of nine small tumours were growing.
After being told she was dying her parents devoted their time to making the most of
Lydia’s final months and the family even travelled to Disneyland courtesy of the Make a Wish Foundation which helps terminally ill children.
But the couple from Whitley, near Selby, Yorks., refused to give up on their daughter and kept pushing to find a treatment for her.
One of the medics at their local hospital discussed her case with surgeons at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, 116 miles away, who said they may be able to perform vital transplant surgery to save her.
Mum Kate, a children’s care home manager,
donated part of her own liver after tests showed her organs were a perfect match for Lydia.
In April Lydia underwent a six-hour operation to have her entire liver removed and replaced with a portion of Kate’s.
Yesterday, just three months after her life-saving op, she returned to her class at Pollington and Balne CofE Primary School, Yorks., after being given the all-clear from her doctors.
Kate said: “As soon as we knew I was the right blood type it was a no brainer, it’s just what any mother would do for their child.
“When I found out I was the right blood group I just thought ‘it’s up to me then’.
“I feel happy knowing that Lydia has got a part of my liver and she feels happy as well.
“It’s still very surreal to think about but it’s unbelievable, she’s a miracle. From the first diagnosis I can’t believe how far we have come.
“From being told she was dying to now see her jumping and laughing with her friends at school is wonderful. We’re really grateful and feel very lucky.”
Lydia was first diagnosed with deadly pancreatoblastoma in September 2011 after her parents noticed her energy levels waning.
Kate added: “She just wasn’t herself, there was nothing significant but she just seemed a bit sluggish.
“Within the last week her stomach swelled up and we took her to Doncaster Royal Infirmary where they told us it was definitely cancer but they weren’t sure what kind.
“We were transferred to Sheffield Children’s Hospital where they initially thought it was lymphoma but more tests showed it was pancreatoblastoma.
“It had spread to the lymph nodes and the liver – from the outset her prognosis wasn’t hopeful. We were absolutely devastated.
“The consultant sat us down and said there was nothing more they could do.
“The treatment continued but they basically said ‘go and enjoy life, make the most of it because she won’t survive’.
“As a parent to be told your little girl is going to die and there’s nothing they can do is the most horrendous thing to hear.
“We tried to make the most of things, we went to Disneyland in America, visited family in South Africa and made a few trips to Devon, which is a family favourite.
“Every time we were thinking ‘this could be the last’.
“The strange thing was that Lydia seemed to be getting better to us, she was still going swimming, yet we were being told she was terminal.”
Lydia was scheduled to undergo six bouts of chemotherapy in a bid to shrink her tumours, but her family received the shattering news on Boxing Day 2011 that, although they had shrunk in size, they hadn’t disappeared.
Lydia was referred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital – one of two centres in the UK that can perform liver and small bowel transplants – where a specialist team reviewed the scans and said they may be able to cure Lydia.
Surgeons performed the first step of a two-stage procedure in November last year, removing the primary tumour along with Lydia’s spleen and two-thirds of her pancreas.
At the same time medics assessed the youngster’s liver and decided that it would be possible to deal with the tumours via a liver transplant – meaning an agonising wait for a donor.
Lydia was put on a waiting list but during a discussion with a donor co-ordinator Kate found out it was possible to be considered for a live organ donation.
Kate went under the knife at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, five miles away from where Lydia lay waiting for her donor liver.
During the six-hour procedure, part of Kate’s liver was transported across Birmingham to be transplanted into Lydia.
Two teams of liver transplant consultants performed each operation – Mr Khalid Sharif and Mr Darius Mirza on Lydia, and Paolo Muiesan and John Isaac performed the op on mum Kate.
Mr Sharif said: “It was a two-step procedure. First we removed the spleen, part of the pancreas and the main tumour.
“While carrying out that operation it gave us chance to consider the tumours on her liver – the options were to leave it or actively go for it.
“We thought we cannot let the family live with this – so we decided to go for the second step and perform a transplant.”
Lydia has since made a remarkable recovery and yesterday said she was “chuffed” to be back at school.
She said: “I have missed all my friends and couldn’t wait to see them all again.
“My favourite subject is maths and I’m looking forward to going swimming again. I’m very excited. I’m chuffed it’s all over.”
The youngster will have to take medication for the rest of her life to ensure her body accepts the donor liver, and her hearing was damaged by chemotherapy.
Her younger brother Dominic, four, will join Lydia’s school in September.
Dad Paul is competing in the BUPA Great Birmingham Run half marathon in October to raise funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital.