Sheree Roose and Tim Eagle have been waiting for this day to arrive - and equally dreading it.
Because today their precious 20-month-old daughter Sativa gets another shot at life. But it is also her last shot. Sativa Eagle, who suffers from leukaemia, will receive a long-awaited bone marrow transplant.
"This is it - the big day we have been waiting for," said Miss Roose from Auckland's Starship Hospital.
"But it's pretty intense and scary for us, knowing it is our last option. If she doesn't get this, it's a death sentence for her. She will die of leukaemia."
Miss Roose and Mr Eagle were told in October last year that Sativa needed the transplant. However, the procedure was delayed after she became seriously ill.
"She has to have zero cancer cells in her body before the transplant," Miss Roose explained.
The bone marrow had been flown in from Germany and all that they knew about the donor was that he was a 22-year-old man. "He wanted to be anonymous but I can write a letter to thank him,' she said.
The New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry used databases from New Zealand and around the world to find a bone marrow donor when a match could not be found in the family. Stem cells were collected in a similar way to a blood transfusion. A small amount of blood passed into a machine that separated and removed the stem cells. The rest of the blood was immediately returned to the donor. The stem cells were also given to the recipient intravenously. Following the transplant Sativa would have monthly lumbar punctures to check her progress and would receive chemotherapy until she was 3, after which she would begin radiation therapy, Mrs Roose said.
Sativa was diagnosed with leukaemia when she and her twin sister Indee were 4-months-old. Sativa had difficulty feeding, cried often and appeared to be in intense pain. It was hoped she would have the transplant earlier this year, but instead she spent three months at Starship Children's Hospital fighting for her life after a lumbar puncture revealed the cancer had worsened. On a ventilator for 20 days, her parents were told three times that she would not make it.
However, on the eve of her transplant Sativa was in good spirits - despite falling off a chair and breaking her leg on Mother's Day, the day before she was due to be admitted to Starship. "She's still happily playing, smiling and laughing. She's amazing. Resilient as. She has no idea what her little body is going through," Miss Roose said.
She would have a minimum three-week stay in hospital, followed by three weeks at Ronald McDonald House, but Miss Roose said she knew of cases where recipients had been hospitalised for months.
"It depends on her body and how she recovers from it. They have said they are scared this is the part that could kill her, not the cancer itself."
When Sativa was first diagnosed with leukaemia, she was given a 40 per cent chance of being cured, but Mrs Roose said she no longer wanted to know the "odds".
"We're going on hope. She has beaten the odds so many times."
The family's hope for the future was to lead a normal life. "Tim will get a job and we will start living normally. I'll be a stay-at-home mum and plan our wedding."
A mother's prayer
One more sleep. Gosh this day we have been waiting seven months for is finally here. Feels so unreal. Please Lord, please rid my daughter of this horrible disease. Please let her live the rest of her life normally. I beg you to take this pain away from her. Amen. - Sheree Roose
Bone marrow transplants
- Bone marrow is the tissue inside bones that produces blood stem cells.
- Stem cells mature into red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
- A small number of immature stem cells circulate in the blood stream.
- Leukaemia and other serious blood disorders prevent the blood cells from maturing and functioning properly.
- Only one in three patients has a family member with a matching tissue type.
- You are more likely to match someone of the same ethnicity.
- The New Zealand Bone Marrow Donor Registry uses databases from New Zealand and around the world to find a matched, unrelated bone marrow donor.
In New Zealand stem cells can be collected by:
- taking blood from which stem cells are removed
- taking bone marrow from the pelvic hip bone using a needle and syringe, under a general anaesthetic.
Stem cells infused into the recipient locate the bone marrow cavity, and if the transplant is successful, begin to grow and produce healthy white and red blood cells and platelets.