‘It’s like the difference between having a car that gets you from A to B, and one that gets you from A to B quickly and comfortably.”
Dr Paul Leonard sums up the immense contribution of the Sick Kids Friends Foundation (SKFF) on his everyday work – transforming his workplace from a reliable old banger to a top-of-the-range luxury model.
The £18 million raised since the SKFF was set up 20 years ago has helped buy everything from the Sick Kids’ first brain scanner to a 3D TV for the young patients.
The equipment is often not strictly essential but its availability means children in the Lothians have access to the most advanced treatments without having to travel hundreds of miles to specialist centres elsewhere in the UK.
Dr Leonard, a consultant in emergency medicine who works between the Sick Kids and St John’s Hospital in Livingston, has been so impressed by the difference made that he has become one of the foundation’s trustees.
“The SKFF increases the resources available, meaning the hospitals have above and beyond what NHS Lothian would provide,” he says.
“Without these funds, a child might have to travel to England to receive the operation, or make do with a procedure in Edinburgh that’s a less good.”
He adds: “It all adds up to a better experience for the child.”
When nine-year-old Beau Rendall, right, was diagnosed with spina bifida at birth, it was the beginning of a seven-year ordeal for his parents.
Beau, from Craigentinny, spent the first two weeks of his life in hospital and required an operation to insert a shunt – a tube for draining brain fluid – at the age of only one week.
For mum Tracy, 45, that and later operations were a constant source of worry as she and her husband, Stuart, 47, did their best to cope.
But life for Beau was transformed when, at the age of seven, he underwent shunt surgery aided by cutting-edge imaging – or “sat nav” – equipment, provided with the help of funds from the SKFF.
The equipment – costing around £220,000 – uses image guidance technology to “map” the patient’s brain in 3D by combining MRI, CT and Fluoroscopy.
“The equipment just makes the operation much more accurate and safe, so the whole thing becomes a lot less worrying for us as parents, and also reduces the risks for the surgeon.”
Tracy said Beau was now able to enjoy life. She says: “He hasn’t had a shunt operation since, so he’s getting on really well. He’s doing great.”
Nicole Page, 13, is one of West Lothian’s leading horse riders, and has taken part in competitions across the UK.
But her progress in the sport that has become “her whole life” was cruelly stunted when the curvature in her spine became so severe she was unable to ride for any length of time without suffering excruciating back pain.
Today, things are looking brighter for the teenager from Bathgate. Aided by the latest imaging equipment and an operating table – together costing £80,000 and purchased with the help of money from the SKFF – Nicole underwent corrective surgery at the Sick Kids in September.
The operation saw her spine straightened through the insertion of metal rods which will stay in place until the bones in her back fuse, causing the curve to disappear permanently.
“It will be four to eight months before she’s able to compete again but Nicole is still over the moon,” says dad Peter, 34, a transport manager.
“She’s absolutely ecstatic that she’ll be able to get back to doing what she loves – horse-riding is her whole life.”
Nicole has also paid tribute to chief surgeon Stanos Thanos sirikos and nurses at the Sick Kids.
“I couldn’t have got through this operation without my family and the excellent nursing staff at the Sick Kids, and especially Mr Thanostsirikos who was just amazing.”
Laura Gibson, from Colinton, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a type of cancer originating from white blood cells called lymphocytes – last year.
The 16-year-old, a sixth year pupil at The Mary Erskine School, had been feeling tired and losing weight for months when the diagnosis came. She went on to endure six cycles of chemotherapy over six months at the Sick Kids before being told her cancer was in remission.
Now, the SKFF wants to improve the treatment available to other young people in similar situations by buying two life-saving ultrasound machines which would provide clearer and more precise imaging for gastroenterology, neurology, oncology, orthopaedics, A&E and general surgery.
One of the machines will also be used as a mobile scanner, which can be taken to children on the wards if they are too ill to move.
Laura hopes as much money as possible can be raised.
“It was really difficult to go through all of the treatment needed to make me better,” she says, “but I am truly grateful for all of the funds invested by the Sick Kids Friends Foundation. The ultrasound really helps staff in radiotherapy track the progress of treatment.”