Staff from WA’s bone and tissue bank, PlusLife, have donated bicycles to young children stricken by cancer after constructing them as part of a team-building development day.
The Midland-based team, which manages life-changing bone and tissue donations, unwittingly built the bikes as part of a series of group challenges last week before surprise presentations to Nora Holly, 4, and Ethan Moody, 5, who have both battled neuroblastoma.
Neuroblastoma, is the most common solid tumour of childhood, occurring almost exclusively in children from infants to the age of five. About 40 children a year are diagnosed with neuroblastoma in Australia.
Ellenbrook mother Monica Wright said the generous gift had lifted the spirits of her son, Ethan, who has undergone intensive cancer treatment since being diagnosed with a stage four neuroblastoma in December last year.
Ms Wright said doctors discovered a tumour the size of a grapefruit in Ethan’s abdomen, which had formed near his adrenal glands and spread to his chest.
“In the past 10 months, Ethan has spent more than half of that time as an inpatient at Perth Children’s Hospital,” Ms Wright said.
“As well as two bouts of surgery, including an 18-hour operation to remove a tumour from his abdomen, he has been through five rounds of chemotherapy, two rounds of megatherapy and 13 rounds of radiation.
“We cannot believe the generosity of the team at PlusLife in donating Ethan a bike and a helmet. He is loving the childhood freedom of being able to ride, after everything he has been through.”
Gooseberry Hill mother Naomi Holly said her daughter Nora, now aged four, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at just eight months old, after she one day woke up paralysed.
“She couldn’t move from the neck down and was like a little rag doll. Unbeknown to us, Nora had a tumour in her chest and spine,” Mrs Holly said.
“So, to now see her walk and ride a bike is just amazing.”
Mrs Holly said doctors had just hours to alleviate the pressure from the tumour on Nora’s spine before it was fatal. She then underwent gruelling cancer treatment and her family was told this month that her cancer was in remission.
Mrs Holly thanked PlusLife staff for their kindness in donating her daughter a new bike.
“These kids spend a lot of time in hospital in their rooms, many of them in isolation, so this gesture is just lovely,” she said.
“That these bikes have been made with such love and care means so much more.”
Three other bicycles constructed during the PlusLife staff development day will also be donated to cancer patients undergoing treatment at Perth Children’s Hospital in Nedlands.
Since opening as the Perth Bone and Tissue Bank 26 years ago, PlusLife has provided more than 19,000 grafts to over 10,000 patients, many of whom are children with bone cancer and spinal deformities.
PlusLife managing director Anne Cowie said the organisation had become closely aligned with parents of young cancer patients who had received life-changing tissue donations, and they had put forward names of worthy recipients for the bikes.
“We are thrilled to be able to provide some joy to Nora and Ethan through these bikes and hope they get hours of enjoyment from them after all they have been through,” Mrs Cowie said.
“As well as helping to build better workplace relationships, problem-solving and productivity in our workplace, this team-building exercise has been a reminder for us about why we do the work we do.”
PlusLife, which manages bone and tissue donations in WA, has two donor programs. Living patients having hip replacement surgery can donate the ball part of their hip, which is used commonly in a ground-up form for children with spinal deformities. And, like organ donation, bone, tendons and ligaments can be donated after death with consent from next-of-kin.
Grafts are used for patients undergoing life-changing operations, such as complex joint surgery and treatments for patients with dental and facial bone loss. In many cases it has saved children with cancer the distress of a limb amputation.
“PlusLife has helped improve thousands of lives through generous donations of Australian tissue. This small gesture is just an extension of that giving,” she said.