Starship Stars - Two Amazing Young Patients
A mother’s instinct was the saving grace of Emma Watson, now six years old. On the day Joanne and husband Michael married, everyone noticed how cranky Emma, the then two-year-old flower girl, was but put her bad mood down to being an overwhelmed toddler. A week later, Joanne was concerned enough about Emma’s continued cough to take her to A&E, where she was admitted for asthma. The following morning Emma’s routine blood results showed she had acute cancer (T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia). Her bone marrow was 97 per cent leukaemic. Within hours the Taranaki family had been helicoptered to Starship, where they were told Emma would have died within days from her condition.
“She was a very sick little girl,” says Joanne. “Nothing can prepare you for it.”
Joanne and Emma, joined as often as possible by Michael and their six other children (a blended family – each parent had three kids before they had Emma and got married), spent the next 99 days at Starship and Ronald McDonald House. Her treatment was successful although she was left with little immunity. She caught a serious bacterial bug that proved unusually resistant to antibiotics. She suffered two cardiac arrests, multiple organ failures and was in a coma for 15 days. Doctors told the family to say their goodbyes. Everyone was amazed when plucky Emma survived.
Now a bright and bouncy six-year-old, Emma loves to raise money for the Child Cancer Foundation. She is also the proud owner of over 2700 beads of courage, each one given for braving a medical procedure.
And although her journey has left medical challenges in its wake – severe osteoporosis which has caused three compression fractures in her spine, a liver condition and deep-vein thrombosis to name a few – Emma keeps on smiling.
Joanne, formerly from Britain, is quick to praise Starship, crediting the staff there for saving Emma’s life: “Even in the UK, we wouldn’t have gotten the care we did there. You don’t wish this on any family but if it’s going to happen, it’s good if it’s here.”
Photos © PETRIE FAMILY
Happily and heavily pregnant, Kristie Jacobs was looking forward to welcoming her third child, a little girl. Her final scan delivered news that every parent-to-be dreads: there was something wrong with the baby. An abnormal heartbeat was detected and Kristie and her husband John were told to prepare for a “blue baby” who would require urgent cardiac surgery when born. Little Petra arrived nine days overdue and at just one week old had the first of many procedures performed by a team of experts.
Petra spent 16 weeks in hospital, with her prognosis becoming increasingly bleak. Doctors had almost run out of options when it was proposed that Petra have an ablation surgery (which corrects heart rhythm problems), a highly risky procedure reserved for children weighing over 20 kgs. At the time, she weighed a mere 6 kg.
Fortunately, that operation turned Petra’s prognosis around. Since then Petra, now aged four, has had a further ablation and is awaiting more heart surgery later this year. It is hoped it will boost her blood oxygen levels from 85 to 100 per cent.
Kristie says Petra is a happy pre-schooler who weighs more than one of her older siblings. “Her health in the last two years has been amazing although she’s been for a hell of a ride.”
And she has nothing but praise for the dedicated medical staff at Starship Children’s Hospital.
“They were really positive the whole way. Whatever was in their means to give her they gave it a go and when it was an emergency for Petra they were all there. They really want to do their best for these kids.”
Photos © TIM WHITE AND JACOBS FAMILY
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 26 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW