Sister gives the gift of life

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“I would do anything to help her.”

Those are the heartfelt words of a Todmorden teenager who gave her sister the greatest gift of all - a life-saving bone-marrow transplant to help her beat cancer.

Madeleine Hudspith, 13, didn’t hesitate when doctors told her she could help little sister Niamh, 11, who was seriously ill with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.

Her bone marrow was an exact match for her sister’s and harvesting her cells for Niamh meant she would have a fighting chance at beating the disease.

Under general anaesthetic, Madeleine had the painful procedure at Leeds Royal Infirmary and the selfless act saved her sister’s life.

Madeleine said: “I’d have done anything to help Niamh, especially after everything she’d been through. She’s my sister and I love her.

“I know she’d do the same for me.”

As both girls walked side by side to school this year on Niamh’s first day of high school at Blessed Trinity RC College in Burnley, mum Ciara Ridgway, 47, found it difficult to hold back the tears.

She said: “I’m just so proud of them both, and so immensely grateful that Maddy’s bone marrow was a match for Niamh.

“Not many families are lucky enough to find a match. Maddy was so pleased that she could do something to help and was really brave.

“It was quite a painful procedure and she was sore afterwards but didn’t complain. She just said it was nothing compared to what Niamh had been through and that she’d do anything to help.

“I’m so proud of my girls - of Niamh for being so brave during her treatment for leukaemia and of Madeleine for not thinking twice about helping her sister.

“They’ve always had a special bond but it’s even more special now.”

Madeleine sat at Niamh’s bedside as the life-saving bone marrow cells were transplanted in October 2015.

The procedure was a complete success and blood tests a few months later showed that Niamh’s bone marrow was now 100 per cent made up of her sister’s cells - the best outcome the family could have hoped for.

In recognition of her bravery in fighting cancer, Niamh was awarded with Cancer Research UK’s Kids and Teens Star Award.

Mum Ciara is now raising vital funds to accelerate research into new, better and kinder treatments for children, teens and young adults with cancer.

She wants to urge parents to be extra vigilant if they think their children are showing any suspicious symptoms.

Niamh first began to feel unwell in summer 2013 when she was eight. She was pale, and lethargic and couldn’t shake repeated infections including tonsillitis.

Antibiotics didn’t help but, finally, in December 2013 at a visit to the GP at Calderdale Royal Calderdale Hospital, blood tests were carried out and red flag went up.

Niamh was very poorly and doctors prepared Ciara for bad news - Niamh had Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML), a cancer of the white blood cells, which help the body to fight infection.

It’s rare in children - only around 80 children are diagnosed with AML each year in the UK.

Ciara said: “I just broke down. It’s every mother’s worst nightmare.”

Niamh’s treatment path was particularly tough. As well as suffering side effects from the chemotherapy drugs, including losing her hair, she became very ill due to an infection and spent a spell in intensive care.

By June 2014, the family got the news they had been hoping for - that Niamh’s cancer was in remission. Niamh got home in July 2014 just before her ninth birthday. To celebrate, the family booked a trip to Disneyland Paris for Christmas 2014 so she could meet all her favourite Disney princesses.

But in March 2015, Niamh’s leukaemia came back. This time specialists said her best chance was for a bone marrow transplant.

All of Niamh’s three siblings were tested and Madeleine was found to be a match.

Today Niamh is cancer free and enjoying settling into high school after missing so much of junior school. Her health is monitored regularly to ensure the cancer cells haven’t returned and doctors are pleased with her progress.

Ciara said: “We’re not wishing for anything outrageous - just for life to get back to normal for Niamh would be fantastic.

“All she wants is to be like other kids her age but her illness stopped her from doing that for a long time.

“I’m so proud of my girls - they’re amazing.”

Every year, around 175 young people under the age of 25 are diagnosed with cancer in the North East.

Cancer death rates for children (0-14s) have fallen in the area by 28 per cent since the early 2000s but around five children still die from cancer in the North East each year.

Cancer Research UK’s Kids & Teens Star Awards, in partnership with TK Maxx, celebrate the courage of children who have faced cancer.

They are open to all under-18s who have cancer or who have been treated for the disease in the last five years.

To nominate a child, donate or fundraise in support of Cancer Research UK Kids and Teens, visit cruk.org/kidsandteens.