AFTER more than 18 months in hospital first fighting a brain tumour and then life-threatening meningitis, teenager Jamie Bingham faced a long and difficult road to recovery.
His muscles were so wasted from months stuck in bed, he had to learn how to stand and how to walk. He even had to work hard to move his eyes.
And perhaps one of the trickiest challenges of them all, he has had to learn how to suddenly be a 15-year-old boy.
The Broughton High pupil was just 13 and with dreams of becoming a zoologist when he was whisked into hospital for urgent surgery to remove a tumour on his brain.
He was barely through that nightmare – in fact, he was having his stitches removed – when his condition suddenly and dramatically deteriorated.
As meningitis took hold, he faced the start of an 18 months fight for life, with months in intensive care, countless operations and long, difficult nights when his parents could barely bring themselves to wonder if he’d pull through.
As he finally emerged from the worst of it, mum Heather, 40 and husband Ian, 43, had to break it to him that months of his young life – two birthdays, Christmas and term after term at school – had passed without him realising.
“Jamie couldn’t believe he was suddenly 15 years old,” she recalls. “He went in to hospital 13 and came out 15.
“There are lots of changes at that age – his friends had all grown so tall, they’d all changed, they’d move up in school and Jamie couldn’t get his head around it.”
It’s why Heather, unlike many parents who want to wean their children away from spending too long on the internet, is among the few in the land to be delighted every time he logs on to his favourite gadget or PlayStation game.
For not only are online games and technology helping Jamie reconnect with the friends and the months he lost, they’re actually aiding his fight back to full health.
Jamie’s story was told to teachers and youth workers as they gathered to mark Safer Internet Day 2015 and reward young people for their work highlighting internet safety and, in his case, its unexpected benefits.
In a moving essay read out to delegates, the Craigleith youngster told how his life dramatically changed when doctors discovered his brain tumour – and how gadgets and games which were once for fun are now helping him rebuild his life.
“Up until that time I used technology every day mainly for fun and education,” he wrote. “Now technology helps me every day. I used to play with it mainly for fun. Now it has a much more important role in my life.
“I’m getting better every day.”
For Heather, who, in the middle of it all found she was facing her own fight against breast cancer, it’s a positive side to the non-stop electronics which many parents of teenagers despair over.
“Like every other parent, I used to worry about how much time was being spent on his gadgets. He was a regular 13-year-old boy, he used his technology every day, his phone, the internet, the PlayStation.
“I’d say ‘Are you on that again?’ Now I’m delighted every time he logs on.”
Jamie was 12 when his parents noticed he was often sick in the morning. “We couldn’t get to the bottom of what was happening,” recalls Heather. “Then I noticed that when he was watching television, he’d close one eye.”
Doctors agreed to carry out an MRI which showed a large tumour on his brain. Seven-and-a-half hours of surgery removed all but two per cent of it, with hopes high that it will not pose any further problems.
To their relief, the family learned the tumour was benign. But just as they started to relax, Jamie’s temperature spiked and soon he was in intensive care facing the fight of his life.
“One minute it was great news, next he was a very sick boy,” adds Heather, who is currently waiting for radiotherapy treatment.
Meningitis affected the membrane around his brain and fluid began to build up. Scar tissue obstructed its flow and he needed surgery to insert a shunt to help drain it away.
“He ended up having three or four different shunts and probably 14 or 15 operations,” she adds. “He then started to have problems with his breathing, so he needed a tracheostomy.”
It was a heartbreaking blow yet Jamie’s bravery and cheerful demeanour has left his parents full of pride. “He’s suffered more than anyone should in their lifetime, but has been brave, patient, always smiling no matter what he is suffering,” adds Heather.
“He is determined, strong and bright and has an incredible lust for life.”
However, much of his time in hospital was spent in a fog of medication, oblivious to most of what was going on around him.
Months stuck in bed meant his leg muscles wasted, making it hard for him to stand and walk. His eye muscles deteriorated too, making it difficult for Jamie to read while being trapped in hospital meant he missed friends and family desperately.
To help, his friends collected cash to buy him a Kindle so he could try to read his favourite books. And he learned to improve his hand and eye coordination playing simple games on an iPad.
“Now he’s using the iPad to do homework, he’s playing games which are helping to strengthen his eye muscles and he’s connecting again with his friends on the PlayStation,” adds Heather.
Jamie now splits his time between Firrhill High School and Braidburn School which provides support for pupils with additional needs and where a hi-tech iGaze machine which he controls with eye movement is helping his recovery.
“We often regard the technology that kids use as being really negative,” continues Heather, who saw Jamie pick up an award for his essay at an event organised to make Safer Internet Day. “Before this, I would usually be on at him about his gadgets and how much time he spent on them. Now I can see how it’s benefiting him every day.”
Now Heather and husband Ian are convinced that the boy who had dreams of becoming a zoologist will eventually be back to full strength.
“Since he was around seven or eight he has wanted to be a zoologist and had already chosen his school subjects to achieve his dream,” she adds. “Another of his dreams was to be a really good dad. He wants to have lots of children of his own and teach them everything he knows.
“Jamie will be a fantastic father one day, he has all the qualities required.
“Words can’t describe the pride, love and admiration we feel for our son,” she adds.
“He has always been and continues to be a remarkable boy – intelligent, kind, polite, thoughtful, brave and handsome.”
Friends, family and strangers chip in to raise funds for Jamie’s recovery
Jamie Bingham’s incredible battle touched the hearts not only of his friends, but complete strangers too.
And it’s resulted in a heart warming fundraising effort to help improve Jamie’s recovery and support his family – mum Heather, her husband Ian and brother Charlie, 13 – through the hardships that come with having to take time off work to care for a sick child.
His close friends at Broughton High School – many of them left reeling and scared by seeing their mate so ill – grouped together to
buy him a Kindle to
use while he was in hospital.
It sparked a wider drive to raise money to help the family alter their Craigleith home to help Jamie manoeuvre his wheelchair from room to room.
For details of how to support the Jamie’s Journey fund, go to http://gogetfunding.com/project/jamies-journey