Singapore — A young boy from the United Kingdom received treatment for leukaemia in Singapore on Christmas Eve with a procedure that could possibly save his life.
Five-year-old Oscar Saxelby-Lee was diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of the cancer called T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukaemia over the Christmas holidays last year.
He received chemotherapy and stem-cell treatment back home over the course of the year but the cancer returned in September.
In March, the boy had been featured both on the BBC and in The New York Times when thousands of people responded to a campaign launched by his primary school. They signed the stem cell register and donated blood to see if a match could be found for him, as a stem cell transplant had been recommended but neither of his parents was a close enough match.
Three matches were found by the end of March, and in May, the transplant was scheduled.
The boy’s health improved temporarily but by September his family announced that the cancer had recurred.
Oscar’s friends, family, community and even complete strangers rallied around him again, and raised £500,000 (approximately S$880,000) through crowdfunding to bring him to Singapore for the treatment, which is not available in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Ms Olivia Saxelby, the boy’s mother, told bbc.com that the treatment, called CAR-T therapy, which reprograms the cells in patients’ immune systems, is designed for individual patients. The reprogrammed cells then are used to target the cancer cells.
Within a week, Ms Saxelby said, doctors will determine whether the procedure was effective.
She called their journey since Oscar received treatment an “emotional ride”.
“It feels surreal, but it also feels like nothing has changed because we just haven’t seen a difference yet and we don’t know what’s happening. It’s really tough.
It’s gone in. It was as quick as five minutes and now it’s waiting.
It’s done and there’s no going back. It was such a big step to take.
It was such a worry taking him away from everything we’d ever known. Every team that was behind him were doing everything possible for him, but it just wasn’t enough.
So having to make that decision was the hardest thing in our lives to do.”
The Saxelby-Lee family has been in Singapore from the middle of last month and could stay for as long as half a year.
Another young boy from the UK, Zac Oliver, received the same treatment in the United States in March this year. He has been declared free from cancer.
Zac was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in May last year and was brought to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia by November, after a similar crowdfunding effort also raised £500,000 for his treatment and travel.
The boy’s CAR T-cell therapy lasted 17 weeks and he was given a 60 to 80 per cent chance of survival. In March, however, he said in a video posted on Facebook: “Guess what everyone, I have no cancer.”
Zac’s rare condition affects only one out of every 200 childhood leukaemia patients around the world. -/TISG
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