Rare cancer teen survivor inspired to be a nurse thanks to team who saved her life
A recovered paediatric cancer patient is hoping to follow in the footsteps of those in the outstanding rated paediatric team at St George’s Hospital that saved her life.
Zoe Magness, who recently celebrated her 18th birthday, was just four years old when she became unwell and doctors found a tumour on her right lung.
She began chemotherapy treatment at St George’s immediately and was transferred to the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU) as her condition deteriorated. Zoe only had a slither of one lung working, as the cancerous tumour grew and pushed her heart and working lung across her body.
She was diagnosed with Type 1 Pleuropulmonary Blastoma, a rare type of childhood lung cancer – so rare that Zoe was one of less than only thirty people in the world to be diagnosed with the disease. The cancer itself was only discovered in 1991 and even when Zoe was diagnosed, there was little known about its cause.
Nikki Rennie, Zoe’s mother, said: “We were so worried she wasn’t going to pull through. Zoe was unconscious in intensive care for seven weeks. At one point we were told to call our family to come and say their goodbyes, but the PICU team never gave up, trying different ways to support her breathing, giving her a tracheostomy and dealing with a pneumothorax in her healthy lung.
She added: “The caring staff did everything they could to make her as comfortable as possible, but I had a lump in my throat every day wondering is she going to wake up or even make it through the day”.
After three months in PICU, Zoe’s condition started to improve, she regained consciousness and had her tracheostomy removed. By this point, Nikki said that St George’s started to feel more like a second home to the whole family.
She said: “The nurses and play specialists did such kind things to help keep Zoe entertained, such as reading to her or playing games. We were allowed to take her into the hospital garden so she could have some fresh air after being inside for weeks. They were always there to support my partner and myself through the most difficult times throughout Zoe’s cancer treatment.”
After nine rounds of chemotherapy and further care, Zoe was transferred for specialist surgery at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital to remove the lung that had collapsed due to the cancer. This led to her other organs collapsing on one side and caused her to develop scoliosis of her spine, requiring further surgery to allow her to grow as normally as possible.
Despite her challenging start in life, Zoe doesn’t let this hold her back and has even been inspired from her experience to become a children’s nurse. She said: “I’m so grateful to the paediatric staff at St George’s Hospital for looking after me, and for always being there for me throughout my life. Thank you to the nurses who told me to follow my dreams and never give up.”
Anita D’Souza, Head of Nursing for PICU at St George’s, said: “Everyone at St George’s Hospital PICU is so proud of Zoe, and I feel privileged to see how much she has achieved over the years.”
Jacqueline Totterdell, Group Chief Executive said: “Zoe is an exceptional and inspirational young woman, and I’m overjoyed to hear she wants to join our wonderful PICU team. I have no doubt Zoe will make a brilliant and dedicated children’s nurse and I wish her all the very best as she starts her journey to making that a reality.”
Notes to Editors
St George’s children’s services are rated outstanding by the CQC.
Every year St George’s treats over 130,000 children and deliver 5000 babies.
About two thirds of our patients come in through the Paediatric Emergency Department. The remaining children are referred from our region or because of the department’s special expertise.
In addition to hosting one of London’s largest and most comprehensive children’s surgical unit, a largest infectious disease unit, one of only 3 paediatric trauma centres, neurology service and paediatric neurosurgery unit as well as a host of other paediatric tertiary services, we also have the only oncology PICU for South London, Kent, Surrey and Essex.
St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is the largest healthcare provider, major teaching hospital and tertiary centre for southwest London, Surrey and beyond – and one of the largest healthcare providers in the UK – serving a population of 3.5 million.
Its main site, St George’s Hospital – one of the country’s principal teaching hospitals – is shared with St George’s, University of London, which trains medical students and carries out advanced medical research.
St George’s is one of 11 adult and children major trauma centres in the UK, one of eight hyper acute stroke units and one of the biggest and busiest of the eight heart attack centres in London.
St George’s is the only hospital site in Southwest London where children with cancer can receive oncology surgery, paediatric intensive care, neurosurgery, as well as oncology care, all on the same site with the other specialties that are required as well.