Call to support Leeds haven for families of sickest young patients

A new appeal for Eckersley House the home from home for parents of seriously ill children has been launched. Katie Baldwin reports.

11 month old Fletcher Fisher

Little Fletcher Fisher’s parents not only have to see their baby undergo cancer treatment – but they have to travel more than 100 miles from home for him to get the specialist care he needs.

The 11-month-old is a medical mystery baffling doctors who have been unable to diagnose what kind of cancer he has.

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He was first diagnosed after a tumour was found on his liver and so has to come to Leeds for treatment.

Connor Lynes

However it is two-and-a-half hours drive from his home in Carlisle, leaving his parents far away from familiar surroundings.

But thanks to Eckersley House, accommodation for parents of seriously ill young patients being treated at Leeds General Infirmary, they felt at home even at the most difficult times.

Fletcher’s mum Leanne said: “It’s like a little family at Eckersley House, we really appreciated how comfortable and relaxed they made us feel – which was so important.”

The tot was nine-months-old when their local hospital found a mass on his abdomen and they were referred to LGI.

Connor Lynes

“When we arrived Fletcher had tests and biopsies carried out – but they came back negative or inconclusive, and we knew it was only the beginning,” his mum added. “This is when cancer reared its ugly head.”

They were told he would be admitted for an indefinite amount of time for treatment.

For five weeks, Fletcher was kept on the ward and his parents stayed opposite the hospital at Eckersley House, which is run by the Sick Children’s Trust.

“It’s a home from home, which was great as it meant I could get away from the ward, freshen up and grab some sleep when I needed to and most importantly, Fletcher could have both of his parents with him as Eckersley could accommodate for us both,” his mum said.

“It became very significant when Fletcher began to get stronger and was allowed away from the ward for the weekend. We could bring him over to Eckersley and be a family unit again – we could spend proper family time together, eat a family meal and go into the playroom – it was great.”

Fletcher is now undergoing chemotherapy, which is reducing the size of his tumour, although the next steps are unclear.

“Despite all he faces, my son simply amazes me. He is absolutely wonderful and you would not think for one moment he is a sick child,” Leanne said.

When Connor Lynes was rushed to hospital having suffered a stroke aged just 14, having somewhere to stay was the last thing on his family’s mind.

But his auntie Sara, who the teenager lives with, was with him in Leeds and her daughter Emily was back at home in Hull, alone and worried. As Connor lay in a coma in intensive care, the staff at Eckersley House stepped in.The family were given a room at the accommodation opposite Leeds General Infirmary, which meant both Sara and Emily, 17, could stay close to Connor as he was treated there.

“A massive weight was lifted off my shoulders, as it meant Emily could come over to Leeds and be there with us,” Sara said. Connor suffered a stroke after a seemingly minor accident on the football pitch just over a year ago. .

“We were meant to go straight to LGI for specialist treatment, but I was shocked when the surgeon came down and said if he didn’t operate now, we could lose him. Connor might die.” A blood cot had blocked an artery, but the surgeons managed to remove enough to restore blood flow before rushing him to LGI.

Connor was in a coma and put onto the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit. When he woke up, he initially had no feeling down one side but within a week got up and walked. The teenager is now back home in Hull and doing well, despite the after-effects of his illness.

“To begin his recovery the way he did amazed everyone, but I truly believe that was because we were so close - it significantly helped him,” Sara added.“Hospital for any person or family can be a very lonely place, and it makes a huge difference for a child to have their family close by. “

Both families are backing a fundraising drive to raise funds for the Sick Children’s Trust, with people being asked to hold a Big Chocolate Tea over the next week.

Eckersley House Manager Jane McHale said: “The Sick Children’s Trust relies entirely on voluntary donations to keep its ‘homes from home’ running – it costs over £5,000 a year to sponsor one bedroom in Eckersley House. Last year, we supported over 400 families with sick children.”