Wednesday 12 December 2018

'I said to him ‘if I could take your place I would'' - mother tells how mystery bruises led to son's rare illness diagnosis

Oliver Hand with Jamie McDonald, a football freestyler.
Oliver Hand with Jamie McDonald, a football freestyler. Newsdesk Newsdesk

A ten-year-old boy who could have bled to death when he was six years old because of a rare illness was granted his biggest dream by Make A Wish recently.

Oliver Hand (10) from Killiney, Co Dublin was diagnosed with severe aplastic anaemia - or bone marrow failure – when he was just six years old.

He suddenly developed black bruises on his leg one day and became very pale, and concerned, his mother Laura brought him to the doctor.

She told “The reason those bruises were coming up was that his blood wasn't clotting because he had very few platelets in his blood.”

“He was in Tallaght hospital doing a blood test and they said 'we think he has leukaemia'; that was how quick it was. His bruises were black. All of the blood cells are produced in your marrow and he wasn’t producing any blood at all.”

“He could have bled to death, that’s how bad it was.”

Normally a person would have between 150,000 and 400,000 platelets in their blood - Oliver only had 3,000.

“He was an active kid, he was running around, and the bruises were the only reason I thought something was wrong. He was very pale as well the day before. When he was admitted he got transfusions straight away.”

Over the past four years, Oliver’s doctors tried various forms of treatment to cure his illness.

However, when two rounds of antithymocyte globulin (ATG) immunotherapy treatment didn’t work, Oliver was left with no option but to have a bone marrow transplant.

“He relapsed after the second go, so transplant was the only option.”

Oliver had intensive chemotherapy, after which he lost his hair, and he received a bone marrow transplant on June 14. But through Make-A-Wish, one of his dreams came true before the procedure.

“He wanted to go over and meet a YouTuber Jacksepticeye in England but we couldn’t go - it was too close to the time of transplant. So I asked him ‘what would you like in your wildest dreams? He just said a Playstation 4 and two games’.”

“A limo came to the house - we were going to GameStop in Dun Laoghaire. He had no idea that the limo was coming. The shop was empty but the staff had everything – the playstation, nine games, and one of the games he wanted was a virtual reality game and they actually gave him the head set. He just couldn’t speak. It just made him feel so special.”

“He said to me ‘This is the best day of my life’.”

“Then we went in the limo to the Royal Marine and they had organised a gaming chair with a TV, and the controllers and loads of stuff. At least it meant when he came home from hospital he had something to do.”

With siblings, there is a one-in-four chance that they would be a match for the patient to make a bone marrow donation. Oliver is an only child, and eventually one match was found for him on a worldwide database.

“A man in America gave his marrow and it came from America to Crumlin.”

“To get a bone marrow transplant you have to get rid of the old bone marrow to get a new one, so you need high dose sessions of chemotherapy. It’s basically one year’s worth of chemotherapy in one week.”

“When that’s done you’re open to everything (infections) so it’s risky. We stayed in Crumlin for five weeks. He was to have total isolation for 100 days, even at home. So he had all of the stuff from GameStop to come back to.”

“The first 100 days were so tough, there were frightening days. He did extremely well.”

Laura feels that the experience of the last four years has meant that Oliver, who currently has to be home schooled, has had to grow up a lot faster than his peers.

“You just want to take the illness away. There were terrible times in hospital when I said to him ‘if I could take your place I would’. It’s a lot. He’s grown up a bit too quickly.”

“Hopefully next summer he’ll be back in school as normal.”

“He’s been in and out of hospital since he was six. He was transfusion dependent. If he had a transfusion it’d last him a week, it mightn’t, it was constantly being monitored all the time.”

Within a year, Laura hopes that Oliver will be able to live a normal life.

“Because his blood count was so low, he couldn’t do any sport at all, he’d just bleed internally, or his blood wouldn't clot, if anything happened. He couldn’t go swimming either because he had a Hickman line (a central venous catheter).”

“It’s tough going for him – there’s a lot of isolation. He just wants to be normal again.”

“He has no immune system at the moment. All of his immunisations that he had as a baby, they were all wiped out with the chemo so that’s why he can’t go to school.”

But she added: “He feels back to normal. He hasn’t needed a transfusion in three months whereas he needed one every three days.”

Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. For more information about Make-A-Wish International, visit

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