Wilms’ tumour, home haemodialysis and kidney transplants

Natalie began a whirlwind journey when her daughter Olivia was diagnosed with kidney cancer just before her second birthday.

Natalie first realised something was wrong during a routine nappy change. "I felt a lump in her tummy, so I called the doctor," she recalls. "The doctor referred us to our local hospital, who sent us straight to Great Ormond Street Hospital."

Olivia was diagnosed with Wilms' tumour, a rare form of kidney cancer, just before her second birthday. She went straight on to have intensive chemotherapy.

Dialysis

All of one kidney and most of the other was removed the following July, in the hope that the quarter of a kidney Olivia was left with would function effectively enough to keep her well.

"But it didn’t," continues Natalie. "So the day after Olivia had that really long operation, she had to go back into theatre to have a line put in for dialysis."

Treatment at home

"From July until September, she had dialysis three times a week at the hospital, but then both my husband Paul and I trained at the hospital to allow us to give Olivia home dialysis for a year."

Natalie simply hasn't got enough praise for their trainer Michelle Cantwell: "Michelle came to our house and set all the equipment up for us. I felt confident that everything was working properly, but knew that if ever there was a problem, I could just phone the hospital any time of the day or night and there would always be someone there. They were amazing."

Becoming a donor

Unusually, both dad Paul and mum Natalie were identified as suitable kidney donors, giving them the chance to radically change their little girl's life. Almost two years later, Olivia was finally allowed to undergo surgery and had a transplant after father Paul donated one of his kidneys to save her life.

So how did Natalie feel when both her daughter and husband went in for surgery? "It was surreal. I was at Great Ormond Street Hospital with Olivia, while Paul was having his kidney removed at Guy’s Hospital. In 12 hours it was all over. Olivia went into intensive care straight after her operation, luckily for just one night. Then she went up to the Victoria Ward (now known as Eagle Ward), in whom I have total faith. They tested Olivia on the hour like clockwork. That team are like my family now."

On the ward

Olivia also made visits to the Victoria Ward around Christmas time. "The team were great!" says Natalie. "Play specialist Jane Aston was brilliant. She made our lives so much easier, especially Olivia's. We spent Christmas Eve at the hospital, which is when you see the team really pulling out the stops, decorating the wards to make it all nice and Christmassy for the children."

Regular checks

Olivia's cancer is now in remission. She undergoes six-weekly transplant checks and six-monthly oncology checks to make sure nothing develops. It's been a long journey but watching Olivia now, you’d never think that this happy, energetic little girl who loves her scooter, princesses and anything glittery, had such a debilitating illness.