The parents of a baby girl were left heartbroken after she was diagnosed with two types of blood cancer.
Amelia Topa, who turns two today, is in remission from leukaemia after having a stem cell transplant using a newborn baby’s umbilical cord blood which was specially flown in from America.
Now doing well, Amelia has received a Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Award, supported by TK Maxx, in recognition of the remarkable courage she demonstrated since being diagnosed with cancer.
Amelia’s parents, Kerri Paton, 23, and Igor Topa, 24, of Turriff, Aberdeenshire are hugely proud of their little girl.
Kerri said: “Anyone who meets Amelia would agree that she’s a star.
“Being told your child has cancer is the worst sentence any parent could ever hear. I felt mad at first that someone so tiny should have to go through this horrible disease. But Amelia has been a little fighter from the day she was born. I have felt amazed by her strength and lucky to have good support from friends, family and hospital staff.
“We will forever be grateful to a family in America we’ll probably never get a chance to meet. The stem cells from America looked just like a small bag of blood but they had the power to make Amelia well again.”
Around 140 children are diagnosed with cancer in Scotland every year.
Mum Kerri recalls vividly the moment their lives were turned upside down when only hours after Amelia was born on November 27 2017 medics at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin explained that raised purple spots across Amelia’s body could be a sign of something seriously wrong.
Following tests, on December 14 2017 Amelia was diagnosed with leukaemia. Unusually, doctors diagnosed Amelia a mix of two types, acute lymphoblastic leukaemia and acute myeloid leukaemia. The family were transferred to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow the following day.
Kerri said: “It didn’t hit me properly until I walked out of the room and then I started crying, a lot.
“It’s rare enough to be born with leukaemia but to be born with a mix of two kinds is almost unheard of. We were looked after by the hugely experienced Professor Brenda Gibson. It helped to know we had the best oncology doctor on our side.”
Amelia spent her first Christmas in hospital as the first of four rounds of chemotherapy treatment started. By spring, the family were advised that Amelia’s best chance of survival was a bone marrow transplant using stem cells. A match was found and the transplant went ahead on June 28 2018. The family were told was that the stem cells had been donated from a man aged between 16 and 30.
Amelia recovered well and tests showed that the transplant had worked. By autumn last year Amelia was well enough to go home and the family slowly settled back in to life in Aberdeenshire. And after a difficult year, it was a boost when Kerri discovered she was pregnant again.
Oscar was the first baby to be born in the new maternity unit in Aberdeen when he arrived on October 30 2018. Now Amelia was big sister to Oscar, Kerri dared to hope they could settle in to an ordinary family life.
But tragedy struck again. Kerri’s mum, Angela McNabb who had stood by the family every step of the way suddenly died from heart failure aged 48- just the day before Amelia’s birthday.
Kerri said: “My mum was my best friend, she was everything to me.
“Mum absolutely loved Amelia and was so close to her. My major source of support was gone and I hadn’t even had the chance to say goodbye. I couldn’t believe it. It was so unfair. Last Christmas was heartbreaking.”
And it was a hammerblow on February 11 this year when tests showed that Amelia’s cancer had come back. Doctors were uncertain at first whether anything else could be done but they suggested a second stem cell transplant, this time using stem cells from umbilical cord blood.
Amelia had intense chemotherapy in an isolation room before she was ready for the transplant at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow. The transplant went ahead on June 28 this year- exactly a year after the first transplant.
Kerri said: “They had to fly the umbilical cord blood over from America.
“Doctors explained to us that this was the best option to keep the leukaemia away. Amelia soared through the transplant and she’s doing really well now. We’re finally looking forward to a happy Christmas as a family and I couldn’t be prouder. I hope Amelia’s story will help other families going through cancer. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Awards, supported by TK Maxx, are open to all under-18s who currently have cancer or have been treated for the disease in the last five years. There is no judging panel because every child diagnosed with cancer deserves special recognition. Everyone nominated receives a trophy, £50 TK Maxx gift card, t-shirt and a certificate signed by a host of famous faces, including Nanny McPhee and Last Christmas star Dame Emma Thompson, This Morning’s Dr Ranj and children’s favourite entertainer Mister Maker. Their siblings also receive a certificate.
Now they are encouraging families across Scotland to nominate their stars for the honour in the run up to Christmas.
Lisa Adams, spokeswoman for Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People in Scotland, said: “Our Star Awards, supported by TK Maxx, shine an important light on children and young people with cancer.
“We know that a cancer diagnosis is devastating at any age, but that it can be particularly difficult for a child or young person and their families. That’s why we’re calling on families across Scotland to nominate inspirational youngsters for an award so that we can recognise their incredible courage.”
The Cancer Research UK for Children & Young People Star Awards are supported by TK Maxx, the biggest corporate supporter of the charity’s research in to children’s and young people’s cancers. Since the partnership began, the retailer has raised over £34 million for research in to these cancers to help more children and young people survive cancer.