‘Losing an eye can help Kai to beat leukaemia’

Kai Laidlaw and mum Pam Neilson. Picture: comp
Kai Laidlaw and mum Pam Neilson. Picture: comp
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LOOKING at Kai Laidlaw’s big smile, it is hard to imagine how much this “cheeky chops” has already been through.

Up until eight months, he was a happy, healthy baby, reaching each milestone as his proud parents, Calvin Laidlaw and Pam Neilson, lovingly looked on at home in Leith.

But in just three short hours, his family’s life turned upside down as doctors delivered the devastating news that the tot had an aggressive form of leukaemia. After weeks of gruelling treatment, they were then forced to make a heartbreaking decision – whether to remove his left eye or face the disease returning.

Kai had been playing at his grandad’s house last September when a few flu-like symptoms started to appear – he was pale, a little irritable and generally “out of sorts”.

Not wanting to appear a “neurotic first-time mum”, Ms Neilson called NHS 24.

But, after checking he was still eating and drinking, she was advised simply to give him paracetamol and a nasal decongestant for the congestion.

However, just days later, Kai was safely sat in his walker when Ms Neilson noticed a big, black bruise had suddenly appeared on his head from nowhere. She called again and took him to a walk-in centre but was given the same advice.

Within a week of the initial mild symptoms, Kai stopped taking fluids so his mother took him to Bellevue Medical Centre where he was seen straight away.

The GP told her “not to be alarmed” but advised her to take Kai to the Sick Kids hospital immediately as he suspected Kai was seriously ill.

“We got to the Sick Kids at 10am and by 1pm I had a haematologist and an oncologist in front of me telling me that Kai was very poorly, that they needed to take him to intensive care because he’s got leukaemia,” said Ms Neilson, 37.

“I was just in shock, it all happened so quickly. He never even went for a bone marrow test or anything, his blood count gave them all the information they needed, he was just so poorly at that point.”

After a week in intensive care, Kai was taken to ward two, to what would become home for the next ten months.

He was put on the first stage of an intensive chemotherapy programme and had been responding well until a further cruel twist threatened his progress. To the astonishment of doctors, the leukaemia had spread to his eye.

Medics believe it got there following a spinal tap, with the infected cells travelling up in his spinal fluid, causing a mass of blood cells to form at the back of his eye.

The growth could not be removed on its own so in February this year, doctors operated to remove his eye.

Her voice cracking with emotion, Ms Neilson said: “We went for the decision that had to be made – we had to remove the problem and give Kai the best chance so that the leukaemia couldn’t come back. It was hard but it was 
necessary.

“Kai’s been brilliant. Losing the eye hasn’t really affected him, he still has the same attention to detail as before and will grab the tiniest little bit of my hair. He’s been a wee cheeky chops still, that won’t change.”

Since then, Kai enjoyed just a week at home, while continuing treatment with day care, until further misfortune struck. With his immune system already compromised, Kai developed a severe infection after the Hickman line, which delivers his treatment, burst.

The complication has delayed the chemotherapy and, subsequently, the less intensive second phase of treatment which would allow him home again.

The setback has also meant delays to Kai receiving his prosthetic eye, which will be fitted like a contact lense when he is well enough. A new line is due to be fitted today and his family hope his blood count will rise sufficiently to allow him home again soon.

Meanwhile, family and friends have already raised thousands to help charities including Clic Sargent, as well as buying iPads and other goodies for the ward.

They have got permission from the council to hold a fun day on the Meadows on July 20 to raise funds for Edinburgh-based children’s charity CCLASP – making him their youngest fundraiser.

“He’s had a horrendous time but as horrible, painful and frightening as it’s been, we want Kai’s journey to make a difference and help other families when they’re going through something terrible, too.”