Caleb was only nine years old when he was diagnosed with medulloblastoma – a fast-growing brain cancer.
Just days later he was admitted to hospital for surgery.
The operation saved his life, but left Caleb’s face and the right-hand side of his body paralysed. With an impressive commitment to physiotherapy, he regained his ability to stand and walk. But his face remained paralysed, Caleb had lost his smile.
Through conversations with other parents in medulloblastoma-support forums, Caleb and his family were made aware of a possible surgical solution. But it seemed the surgery was rarely performed in Australia, and the possibility of helping Caleb regain his smile seemed remote.
Caleb’s family continued knocking on doors to find a solution, until one opened with Associate Professor Sydney Ch’ng, specialist Head and Neck and plastic reconstructive surgeon at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse.
“I’ve been at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse since not long after it opened and I knew I could help Caleb,” said Sydney, who agreed to take on Caleb’s surgery.
However more doors needed to be knocked down, as Chris O’Brien Lifehouse was not licensed to treat paediatric patients. “Before Caleb’s procedure, Lifehouse was not set up as a paediatric oncology hospital. But we were determined to make this happen. It took almost two years of preparations and lobbying to make sure the Ministry of Health could give us the go-ahead to operate,” says Sydney.
Caleb underwent an onerous 6-hour surgery, which involved transplanting a small part of muscle from his leg over to the effected side of his face. “The results weren’t immediate but after 5 weeks the relocated muscle in Caleb’s face twitched – we knew then the transplant had worked,” said Sydney.
Following on from the surgery and many months of intense rehabilitation Caleb’s smile slowly returned and for that we could not have been more stoked!
“I didn’t think it would have such an impact on his overall wellbeing, but he is just shining now. I owe everything to Sydney and the team at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, they really went the distance to make this possible for our family. There aren’t words to say thank you” Suzanne Turpie, Caleb’s Mother.
You can support patients with cancer at Chris O’Brien Lifehouse by choosing to walk, run, skate or swim this August.
Register now at www.gothedistance.org.au.