In November 2020, Natasha and Nathan were preparing for their second child to enter the world and were excited at the prospect of celebrating their first Christmas as a family of four. Unfortunately, the family didn’t get the Christmas miracle they longed for.
On the 17th of November 2020, Ashton was born at their local hospital with severe bruising and lesions on his body. The very next day, he was transferred by the Newborn and paediatric Emergency Transport Service (NETS) to The Children’s Hospital at Westmead (CHW) in a serious condition.
Anxious and afraid, the family put all their trust in their medical teams to find answers.
At five days old, Ashton was diagnosed with Congenital Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and started chemotherapy immediately.
“We couldn’t believe it. We had no idea that you could be born with such a terrible disease, but there we were,” said Ashton’s mum, Natasha.
AML is cancer of the blood and bone marrow. It’s so rare that it impacts only one in five million babies.
“I was too scared to look at him. I was too scared to touch him. I was too scared to do anything in case he didn’t make it.”
Thankfully little Ashton is a fighter who was determined to prove everyone wrong. After four long months of chemotherapy, he reached remission and was able to finally go home.
However, after three wonderful months at home, the family received another devastating blow – Ashton had relapsed.
“You know, we thought the initial diagnosis was hard. But a relapse diagnosis is so much harder,” recalled Natasha.
Having to mentally come to terms with Ashton battling through his condition again, Natasha and Nathan remained strong and hopeful. She knew Ashton and her family were in the best place possible and she had the support of the doctors and nurses around her.
Ashton has spent 237 days, 5664 hours and 339,840 minutes as an inpatient in hospital. The hallways of the hospital, once so scary, have now become familiar and comforting as CHW became their second home. Of his short life so far, Ashton has spent more time in hospital than at home.
“I remember four years ago I had to take my oldest to Westmead for a check-up and I remember walking through the hospital and I saw a child who was bald. And I smiled at that child. And I thought to myself, I don't know how those parents do it. And then four years later, I'm in that position. I know how those parents do it now. You stay strong but you just never think it's going to be you,” said Natasha.
Hundreds of sick kids and their families will be spending Christmas in hospital just like Ashton. His family are sharing their story to spread awareness of his condition and encourage donations to the Light Up Xmas Appeal, to raise funds to help other families who rely on the hospital.
“My husband and I, we want to raise awareness. We don't want another family going through what we’ve been through. No child should have cancer. A child should be at home with their family. Playing outside, playing with their friends, playing with their family. They shouldn't be in hospital.”
Natasha’s message to the community is simple.
“By donating, you're not only funding new equipment, but you're also funding further studies, which could in the future, hopefully lead to a cure. And that cure could prevent further heartbreak for families.”