Hope Amid Heartache

Family hails Gia’s RCH support

When baby Gia was five weeks old, her parents noticed what looked like a “little blue pea” on her belly button.

As mum Hannah explains, the nodule quadrupled in size in the next couple of weeks and changed colour.

“She also started getting some little growths on the top of her head as well, like a Skittle under the skin,” Mrs Carswell said.

When Gia then became sick after New Year’s Day, the Warrnambool family took her to emergency, where a pediatrician checked her over carefully.

“He mentioned how her spleen and liver were quite enlarged and that we should do a blood test,” Mrs Carswell said.

“So he did and came back half an hour later and said she has leukaemia.

“They could tell from how high her white blood cell count was. Hers was alarming.

“The doctor said it was quite amazing really that she was still so well with a white cell count that high.”

Within minutes, the family was told they needed to fly urgently by helicopter to the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne for treatment.

“There was a storm coming in, so we had 20 minutes to get her hooked up to everything she needed to be on immediately and then to get to the airfield,” Mrs Carswell said.

“She was straight into PICU, Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, and started chemo the next morning.”

Gia was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, a rare and highly aggressive form of leukaemia, and will need two years of chemotherapy.

“We were just shell-shocked,” Mrs Carswell said.

“I thought maybe gastro or a virus. My husband and I have not been home to Warrnambool since we took her to emergency.

“I’m living in the hospital with Gia and my parents are caring for our other two children, Lainie, 13, and Kiki, 2. They were luckily able to move into our house to care for them.”

The first round of chemotherapy hit Gia, who is now five months old, hard and she suffered a serious complication.

“She ended up having paralytic ileus, which is kind of like her intestines start to shut down,” Mrs Carswell said.

The cancer’s response to the chemo so far is promising, but Gia’s type of leukaemia is notoriously difficult to treat and the side effects are a constant battle.

“As a parent dealing with childhood cancer, you are living the worst of what could happen to you and your family,” Mrs Carswell said.

“It’s horrifically traumatic and it’s relentless.

“Something I think most people don’t realise is that many cancer treatments are developed for adults, and chemo toxicity is a real threat to all children.

“And we don’t have any other option – unfortunately it is a necessary evil.”

The Carswell family feels incredibly grateful Gia has been lucky enough to be treated by the world-leading experts at the Royal Children’s Hospital.

“I’ve connected with other oncology parents via social media, and they often remark how lucky we are to be at RCH in Melbourne, because it’s so renowned internationally for its pediatric oncology specialism,” Mrs Carswell said.

Written by Jen Kelly
Photos by David Caird
Published in the Herald Sun 25th March 2024

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