Call to support Leeds haven for families of sickest young patients

Fletcher Fisher
Fletcher Fisher
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Eckersley House is the home from home for parents when their child is seriously ill. Katie Baldwin reports.

Little Fletcher Fisher’s parents not only have to see their baby undergo cancer treatment – but they have to travel more than 100 miles from home for him to get the specialist care he needs.

Dylan Barnett

Dylan Barnett

The 11-month-old is a medical mystery baffling doctors who have been unable to diagnose what kind of cancer he has.

He was first diagnosed after a tumour was found on his liver and so has to come to Leeds for treatment.

However it is two-and-a-half hours drive from his home in Carlisle, leaving his parents far away from familiar surroundings.

But thanks to Eckersley House, accommodation for parents of seriously ill young patients being treated at Leeds General Infirmary, they felt at home even at the most difficult times.

Fletcher’s mum Leanne said: “It’s like a little family at Eckersley House, we really appreciated how comfortable and relaxed they made us feel – which was so important.”

The tot was nine-months-old when their local hospital found a mass on his abdomen and they were referred to LGI.

“When we arrived Fletcher had tests and biopsies carried out – but they came back negative or inconclusive, and we knew it was only the beginning,” his mum added. “This is when cancer reared its ugly head.”

They were told he would be admitted for an indefinite amount of time for treatment.

For five weeks, Fletcher was kept on the ward and his parents stayed opposite the hospital at Eckersley House, which is run by the Sick Children’s Trust.

“It’s a home from home, which was great as it meant I could get away from the ward, freshen up and grab some sleep when I needed to and most importantly, Fletcher could have both of his parents with him as Eckersley could accommodate for us both,” his mum said.

“It became very significant when Fletcher began to get stronger and was allowed away from the ward for the weekend. We could bring him over to Eckersley and be a family unit again – we could spend proper family time together, eat a family meal and go into the playroom – it was great.”

Fletcher is now undergoing chemotherapy, which is reducing the size of his tumour, although the next steps are unclear.

“Despite all he faces, my son simply amazes me. He is absolutely wonderful and you would not think for one moment he is a sick child,” Leanne said.

The family are backing a fundraising drive to raise funds for the Sick Children’s Trust, with people being asked to hold a Big Chocolate Tea over the next week.

Eckersley House Manager Jane McHale said: “The Sick Children’s Trust relies entirely on voluntary donations to keep its ‘homes from home’ running – it costs over £5,000 a year to sponsor one bedroom in Eckersley House. Last year, we supported over 400 families with sick children. If you can hold a Big Chocolate Tea event and raise whatever you can, your money will go towards supporting a family, keeping them together when it matters most.”

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Being able to stay close to her grandson after he was rushed to hospital in Leeds was a “lifesaver” for Janet Barnett.

The seven-year-old, who lives with his grandparents in Scunthorpe, was badly injured when he was hit by a car outside his house.

He heard an ice cream van and before his grandma could tell him to wait, a gust of wind blew their gates open. The youngster bolted out of the garden and was hit head on at 30mph by a car.

“Seeing my grandson being airlifted from our road was one of the most terrifying things I have experienced,” his grandma said.

He was in intensive care in LGI for a week, when his grandparents stayed in the hospital, and when he moved onto a high dependency ward, they went to Eckersley House.

“Although we only stayed for a week, for that week it was a lifesaver,” Janet said. “The wards can be very stressful so knowing we had home comforts to look forward to at the end of the day was fantastic – it was so restful.”

Their “little marvel” was discharged after another week, despite having emergency brain surgery, an operation on his airways, and a broken pelvis.

“The ‘Homes from Home’ are little secret escapes that people don’t seem to know about, but something that they should, so we will try our best to help in whatever way we can,” his grandma added.

* See next Monday’s Healthy Living page for more.