Baby diagnosed with cancer after eagle-eyed medics spotted ‘extremely rare’ symptoms
When baby Zak was diagnosed with leukaemia, it left parents Tammy and Mitch “broken-hearted”. But fast-forward several months and their little one is thriving – and it’s thanks in no small part, says Tammy, to the teams at St George’s Hospital for spotting his rare symptoms.
Little Zak was born in October 2022, and his proud parents could not have been happier. “Zak completed us and made us a family, and taught us to love in ways we never thought we could,” says Tammy. “Mitch and I are very loving and caring people so we were very excited when we found out we were having a baby.”
Zak was the epitome of a chilled-out newborn, even sleeping through the night from three months’ old. But a few months later, Tammy and Mitch noticed he had swollen glands and lumps on his head. Understandably concerned, they took him to a GP on two occasions and were told to return should Zak deteriorate.
When his symptoms did indeed get worse, “something did not sit right” with Tammy and Mitch, and they took Zak to St George’s emergency department.
There, they saw Dr Adil Hussain, who was “extremely helpful and took the matter seriously”. Dr Hussain listened to the family’s concerns and, after examining Zak’s unusual symptoms, referred him urgently to the hospital’s Blue Sky Centre, a care service for children and young people.
Just two days later, Zak returned to the hospital and was sent for a CT scan and blood tests. Shortly after, Tammy and Mitch received the news no parent ever wants to hear: their beloved child had leukaemia.
“Our hearts completely shattered,” says Tammy. “Our world was completely flipped upside down, and we had no idea how we were going to cope with this news.”
Zak and his family stayed at St George’s that night, and the next day he was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital – the Primary Treatment Centre for babies under one – for four weeks of chemotherapy.
While Zak has received a lot of his treatment at GOSH, where Tammy is also full of praise for the care he has received, he also continued to be treated at St George’s, receiving daily anti-fungal medicine to protect his lungs from the treatment. He has now finished this treatment.
Tammy and Mitch were able to drive their very poorly child to South-West London-based St George’s from their home in Croydon, or from their parents’ homes in Sutton and Colliers Wood – avoiding public transport, where Zak would have been more exposed.
“I feel safe and secure when Zak gets treatment at St George’s,” says Tammy.
“The staff are extremely caring and compassionate. This is more than just a job to them, you can tell they genuinely care about their patients and go above and beyond.
“Zak’s symptoms were also extremely rare, but the staff at St George’s emergency department recognised there was something wrong.”
Just a couple of months ago, Mitch and Tammy received the news they have been longing to hear: Zak was in remission.
He will still continue to receive treatment, which will include another round of chemotherapy and oral chemotherapy. He’s also currently receiving a cancer medication known as blinatumomab, which is attached to a central line, allowing him to be home with his family.
“It has honestly been a rollercoaster for us all but our family is very strong and we’re all fighters which I am extremely proud of,” says Tammy.
“Zak is a very happy baby, especially now that he’s better. He does not stop talking, shouting, playing and being active.”
Last year St George’s treated more than 170 young patients living with cancer.
But an upcoming NHS consultation into where children’s cancer services should be located means those services could be moved from St George’s could lose the service it has jointly run with the Royal Marsden Hospital for more than 25 years.
If services are kept at St George’s a new state-of-the-art children’s hospital will be built, and there will also be more teams on site – meaning, eventually, under-ones like Zak would receive their care there.
Tammy said: “When we were at St George’s we felt how loving the nurses were. It would be a shame if cancer care for children gets moved elsewhere.
“St George’s being our local hospital has been a pleasure, and I cannot thank them enough for taking care of us. It is clear that the nurses and doctors sincerely care about their patients.
“I want to thank them for such a wonderful experience.”
Dr Richard Jennings, Group Chief Medical Officer for St George’s, Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Group, said: “It’s fantastic to hear how well Zak is doing – testament to our outstanding teams, but also the love and support from his family.
“I’m very proud of everyone involved in Zak’s care, and on behalf of everyone at St George’s would like to wish him and his family all the best for the future.”
Dr Hussain said: “We knew something wasn’t right when Zak came into our emergency department, but I’m pleased that we were able to help Zak receive a swift diagnosis so that he was able to start treatment quickly.
“Hearing that Zak is doing so well is such wonderful news, and I hope he continues to reach the milestones that every parent looks forward to.”
You can find out more about the NHS England consultation at: https://ddec1-0-en-ctp.trendmicro.com:443/wis/clicktime/v1/query?url=www.stgeorges.nhs.uk%2fkids%2ddeserve%2dst%2dgeorges&umid=5648834a-f7eb-48a2-98ae-c91773c93a92&auth=5a48ddabf21f7246250a6ac00727f7875e94cad3-b732cded9589ab748fb7ddc0c308f83d7b960569