On December 28, 2018, 5-year-old Oscar Saxelby-Lee was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), an aggressive form of blood cancer [1]. His parents first noticed a bloody bruising on his chest, which hadn’t come from an injury. They became concerned and took him to Birmingham’s Children’s Hospital, where the doctors confirmed he had ALL.

Olivia Saxelby and Jamie Lee, who live in St John’s, Worchester were told they had only three months to find a stem cell match for their son. If a match isn’t found within this timeframe, as the doctors said, his chances of survival will “severely diminish”.

Oscar’s parents appealed to the public for help

Oscar was started on chemotherapy immediately after his diagnosis in December, and he’s already been through 20 blood transfusions. Unfortunately, his leukemia is too aggressive, and the chemo routine was rapidly destroying his blood cells. The doctors ruled that he needed a stem cell transplant to replenish his destroyed cells. The transplant will allow for a more aggressive chemo regimen to be administered without excessive cell damage. It may not be possible to find a 100% perfect match, but the closer the match is, the higher his chances are.

Oscar’s parents appealed to the general public to lend their hearts to the little boy. A campaign called “Hand In hand for Oscar” was launched in an attempt to bring in a significant number of volunteers to be tested. A testing event was scheduled and organized by the cancer charity organization, DKMS [2]. Speaking to BBC News, DKMS said: “It’s really difficult to find a match, it’s essentially like winning the lottery. It’s very complex and so the more people we can get on that register, the more chances there are to saves the lives of patients like Oscar.”

The highest turn-up DKMS ever recorded for an event like this was 2,200 people on a fine day. Oscar pulled in 4,855 people on a miserably rainy day. It was an incredible display of solidarity. The testing event took place at Pitmatson Primary school, Worcester, where Oscar goes to school.

Crowds and crowds of people queued up in the rain to wait for their turns. 80 volunteers helped with handing out test swabs, retrieving them, and registering the people. The swabs would all be tested later by DKMS scientists and the closest match to Oscar’s cell structure would be contacted.

Pain and suffering couldn’t wipe the smile and cheer off Oscar’s cheeky face

In an interview with SWNS, 23-year-old Olivia, Oscar’s mom, says the little boy’s cheerfulness in the throes of pain was the source of their strength [3].

“From that moment of fear and confusion, we as a family became stronger than ever,” she said. “Oscar reminded us how to fight again and just how courageous he is. Not once has he shown weakness, nor has he ceased to amaze us throughout the most difficult times and that to us is a true warrior.”

Oscar’s teacher, Sarah Keating says she’s never seen any of her children go through something so serious before.

“I’ve been teaching for 20 years and I’ve never had a child go through something like this,” she said. “You hear about children getting cancer and you think, ‘that’s dreadful’, then you move on. In this case, we haven’t moved on, we will fight this.”

22-year-old Laura Senter, Keating’s teaching assistant says everyone at school was shocked upon learning about Oscar’s diagnosis.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I saw him before Christmas and he was his usual happy-go-lucky self. It’s a nightmare for this to happen. You can’t really do anything about it, it’s heart-breaking. If a child falls over and cuts their knee you can put a plaster on it. With something like this, you can’t just fix it. That’s why we have gone into ‘action mode’ to try and find a donor.”

ALL and stem cell transplants

ACUTE LYMPHOBLASTIC LEUKAEMIA is a malignant disease of the bone marrow which attacks immature white blood cells (lymphocytes) [1]. Approximately 3 out of every 4 children and teenagers diagnosed with leukemia have ALL. It’s the most common form of leukemia in children, and mostly attacks kids below the age of 5. 2 out of every 100,000 adults in the US suffer from ALL every year, making it a very rare form of cancer in adults [4].

Common symptoms of ALL include bruising, pain in the bones, bleeding gums, nose bleeding, difficulty in breathing, swollen lymph nodes, infections, and fever.

The main course of treatment is chemotherapy, but Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant (HSCT) is utilized in treating the most severe cases [5]. High doses of chemo are used to treat aggressive cancers. This results in the destruction of both malignant cells and healthy blood cells. Even when radiotherapy is used, the radiation will have the same dangerous effect on the body’s healthy cells.

A stem cell transplant allows the patient to receive high doses of chemotherapy. Healthy cells which will be damaged by the drugs are replenished immediately. Stem cells gotten from the donor’s blood are administered to the patient by intravenous infusion, and they’ll find their way into the bone marrow to regenerate damaged cells.

Stem cell transplants increase a patient’s chances of survival during aggressive chemotherapy. Over 50,000 people across the world undergo stem cell transplants yearly.

Against all odds

Oscar’s mom is heartbroken that her happy boy has to endure so much pain, but she has to stay strong for him. “Oscar is a fun, loving, energetic five-year-old boy who deserves to live to the full alongside the other troopers fighting such horrific diseases,” she said. “Not only does he need to enjoy a normal life a child should live, he now needs someone else to save him.

Oscar is in our hearts and prayers. The superhero will pull through and grow stronger.

“I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. Then I realized, I am somebody.” – Anonymous

References:

  1. “Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, WebMD
  2. DMKS
  3. “Save Oscar”, The Sun UK
  4. Leukemia – Childhood: Statistics, cancer.net
  5. “What is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation?”, Medical News Today
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