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A mum whose son had a bone marrow transplant aged eight, is praising a service at the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow for helping keep her family together in tricky times.
Tracey Gartshore (35) from Fife said: “Not only did they save my son Michael’s life, they also put us back together as a family.”
When children are going through stem cell transplants at the RHC the whole family can access the services of a psychologist to help them through what is a uniquely challenging set of circumstances.
The post was a pilot project that has been funded for the past three years by the Anthony Nolan Trust. Due to its success, from December it will continue to operate with NHSGGC funding and Anthony Nolan have subsequently funded a service modelled on this one in Bristol.
Tracey said: “I am so glad that the psychology service will continue to run; it helps so many families like us.”
Tracey’s son Michael became seriously unwell in 2018 with aplastic anaemia, where the body stops producing enough blood cells and the bone marrow starts to fail. Fortunately his little sister Charlotte was a perfect match and the stem cell transplant went ahead in December 2018.
Tracey and her husband Michael have four children – Erin (18), Shauna (17), Michael (11) and Charlotte who is six.
Tracey said: “Medically the team was amazing. We were treated on the paediatric oncology ward 2a, as well as the transplant ward in the adult hospital. They went above and beyond every day and Michael loved them too. He is doing so well now and it’s all down to them.
“But we were looked after emotionally too. The psychologists (first Helen and now Shreena) were both calm, patient and seemed to genuinely care. They have been there for the whole family and it’s a lifetime service meaning we could see them before, during and any time after Michael’s treatment.
“As well as Michael being physically unwell there was lots going on around that too. He and I have always been super close but I think we spent too much negative time together and the dynamic of our relationship changed because of it.
“Thanks to Shreena we have been able to rebuild our relationship. Michael enjoyed speaking to her on his own and it was easier with me not being there. He’s now 11 but in my head he was still eight, and thanks to working with Shreena I was able to grasp that and move on. Our relationship is much stronger now; I can give him his space and he knows he can come to me when he needs me.”
At the helm of the service are Dr Shreena Unadkat, who moved from Brighton to Glasgow in 2020 to take on the role and Dr Helen Broome, both clinical psychologists.
Shreena said: “It has been a complete privilege to develop the stem cell transplant psychology service, which is the first of its kind in the UK.
“Families going through stem cell transplant face so many challenges, even aside from the disease their child is facing. Having to isolate with your child for a number of weeks or months following the transplant is such a challenge, and often families have to rejig their whole lives to make this happen. If there are other children in the family they need to make sure they are cared for too. The COVID context has added extra pressure on families already struggling. It has been amazing to witness how families do what they have to under impossible circumstances to ensure their child is well.”
“We offer a lifetime service so that we can see children, parents, and siblings up to the child’s 18th birthday. This is a vital part of the service as the emotional impact of a transplant can present a long time afterward, not to mention the impact of medical monitoring that can continue for many years post-transplant. It’s such an essential service and I am glad NHSGGC have decided to fund this going forward.”
Back at home, the Gartshores are doing well and settling back down to a more normal routine as Michael’s health continues to improve.
Tracey said: “This amazing service at the RHC steered us through a very difficult time. The house was getting split down the middle and there were lots of arguments. Thanks to Shreena’s care and patience were in a much better place and we all know what we need. We are so, so grateful.”