Theodora Children’s Charity
“They gave my son a reason to smile again”
Ruth Larthwell, 42, from Kent, explains how Theodora Children’s Charity helped
her son George
Just like many children, Ruth Larthwell’s son George, six, loves watching TV. However, there is one type of programme that he refuses to watch. “He doesn’t like anything about hospitals or doctors as it brings up difficult memories for him,” Ruth explains. In 2015, George spent four months in and out of hospital receiving treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) – an aggressive cancer of the myeloid cells, which is more commonly seen in adults.
Ruth and her husband Simon became concerned about George’s health in January 2015,
when he complained he couldn’t walk to school. “He’d always been able to walk for miles so it was quite unusual. However, I had just started driving so thought maybe he was just being a bit lazy.”
Shortly after, George developed swollen eyelids. “The GP gave him antibiotics for conjunctivitis and didn’t think there was anything severely wrong, but then he started getting night sweats. I took him back to the doctor, who told me George was probably just coming down with something.”
That weekend, Ruth and her family went out for dinner and George fell asleep at the restaurant. “I thought to myself, something definitely isn’t right – I can’t leave him like this any longer.”
The next day Ruth took George to A&E, where he was given a blood test. “We were stunned when they told us they thought George had leukaemia.”
Three days later, George was transferred to The Royal Marsden Hospital in Surrey and given more blood tests, which confirmed the diagnosis. “He was immediately given blood transfusions – as AML can interfere with the normal production of blood cells – and put on antibiotics. He was also given a lumbar puncture – where a needle is inserted between two of the bones in the base of the spine – to inject chemotherapy.”
Every day for ten days George received two chemotherapy drugs, followed by an 18-day break, then received another ten-day round of treatment. “Although patients are often sent home between treatments, George was very poorly so had to stay in hospital. He ended up staying there for eight weeks in total, which was really difficult for him to deal with,” Ruth explains.
“The chemotherapy affected his bowels and made him very weak so that he couldn’t walk anywhere – he had to be carried around a lot or he would use a wheelchair. He would also get painful ulcers in his mouth, so there were a lot of times when he couldn’t eat anything due to the pain he was experiencing.”
Although the hospital provided a school room and play room, George felt too unwell to use either of them. “It was such a shock for him and he didn’t like being there, so he closed himself off the whole time. He wouldn’t talk to many people and disliked all the poking and prodding that came with the medical procedures. As soon as we walked through the hospital doors he became very withdrawn, quiet and unhappy – nothing like his normal self.”
It was during this time that George was visited by Theodora Children’s Charity’s Giggle Doctors, who are professional performers – including actors, entertainers, magicians, musicians and singers – trained to work with sick and disabled children in hospital environments.
“The Giggle Doctors visited the hospital once a week and would come to entertain George
by his bedside. They would do all sorts of things like make his teddy squeak and talk to him, blow big bubbles or throw snowballs made of paper towels at each other, and they would call him King George, which made him laugh,” says Ruth. “Some days he wouldn’t really want to interact with them but would still be listening as they entertained the other children, but on other days when he was feeling well he would absolutely love it. Each day in hospital feels like it goes on forever, but those small visits make such a world of difference. It was a moment where we could just breathe again and experience something other than heartache and pain.”
After being discharged from hospital, George had two more rounds of treatment – lasting five days each, using a different chemotherapy drug – which ended in May 2015. “He is now in remission, so we just have to hope he doesn’t have a relapse, which would mean he would need a bone marrow transplant.
“We have days of feeling down and worrying, but then we just think how lucky we are to have him. Although his fitness isn’t as good as it was and he still gets really tired, he is already feeling much better and is back to being our George.”
Theodora Children’s Charity – THE FACTS
- Theodora Children’s Charity (originally Theodora Children’s Trust) was founded in 1994 by two brothers, in loving memory of their mother Theodora Poulie.
- Half a million children’s lives have been improved thanks to weekly visits from the Giggle Doctors.
- Giggle Doctors are professional performers, trained to work with children with disabilities in hospital and hospice environments.
- The team of 25 Theodora Giggle Doctors visit approximately 30,000 hospitalised children every year.
- For more visit uk.theodora.org
BIG GIVE UPDATE
The £83,452 raised by Theodora Children’s Charity will help boost the morale of sick, disabled and terminally ill children through visits from Giggle Doctors. It will help fund visits to 30,000 children, helping to distract them from the pain, worry and fear that can accompany a hospital stay.