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Dawson family kept together for son’s transplant

The Dawson family are ‘forever grateful’ for being able to stay together in Leukaemia Foundation accommodation while young son, Asher underwent a life-saving bone marrow transplant.

The Dawson Family.
The Dawson Family.

Seven-year-old Asher had just started Grade One in early 2020 when his mum, Michelle noticed he was tiring easily and had a few ‘funny’ rashes.

“He was put on antibiotics, but I still felt like something wasn’t right,” explained Michelle. “He then woke up one morning struggling for breath with a really high temperature.

“We took him back to the doctor who ordered blood tests straight away.

“That afternoon the results showed Asher’s white cell count was incredibly high and I knew straight away that meant leukaemia.”

Living in Toowoomba, the family needed to travel two hours to Brisbane so Asher could access urgent life-saving treatment.

“Asher was taken to Brisbane in an ambulance with my husband, Craig and was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) that night,” said Michelle.

Asher with his baby sister Allegra when he was first admitted to hospital.
Asher with his baby sister, Allegra when he was first admitted to hospital.

“I had a four-month-old newborn, Allegra at the time and had to send my eight-year-old daughter, Ava and 12-year-old son, Joshua to go stay with family friends.

“I asked my mum and dad to drive me down the next day with the baby as I couldn’t even think straight.”

Asher had a bone marrow biopsy and was started on chemotherapy immediately with the leukaemia flooding his little body quickly.

“A couple of weeks later we found out that he had the FLT-3 gene mutation which means he had a high risk of the AML returning after treatment,” explained Michelle.

“From then, we knew he would need a bone marrow transplant to minimise his chance of relapse.”

Asher then went through two rounds of chemotherapy to prepare him for an allogeneic bone marrow transplant from his older brother, Joshua.

“That was a pretty stressful time being in a capital city like Brisbane during the COVID-19 outbreak,” said Michelle.

Asher in hospital during his treatment.
Asher in hospital during his treatment.

“As soon as we found out Joshua was a match, we sent him off to my sister’s farm in the country to keep him isolated, so he wouldn’t get sick before the transplant.

“All our kids are now hyper-aware of germs and make sure to wash their hands all the time. At least that was one positive to come out of the pandemic.”

In May 2020, the whole family were able to relocate to Brisbane and stay together at a Leukaemia Foundation Patient Accommodation Village while Asher underwent his transplant.

“That was just amazing as we had been moving between lots of places for the beginning of his treatment,” said Michelle. “His brother and sisters had barely been allowed to see him because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It really was such a blessing as our big family weren’t able to fit into many of the other subsidised accommodation options.

“We were able to walk our two oldest kids down to the hospital school and see Asher every day. We felt so incredibly grateful to have this home-away-from home completely free of charge.”

Asher rocking a special haircut before all his hair fell out.
Asher rocking a special haircut before all his hair fell out.

The family also accessed financial assistance from the Leukaemia Foundation, including grocery and petrol vouchers, which “really took the pressure off”.

When explaining Asher’s blood cancer to her other children, Michelle made sure not to cause them unnecessary fear or anxiety.

“They knew he had cancer and that it was treatable, but I didn’t go into all the things that could’ve gone wrong,” said Michelle.

“They were aware that he would be feeling crappy after chemo doses and that the bone marrow transplant would be full on.”

During his treatment Asher struggled with eating as he was already a fussy eater before undergoing chemotherapy.

Asher 'having a kick' at the Leukaemia Foundation accommodation.
Asher ‘having a kick’ at the Leukaemia Foundation accommodation.

“He ended up on a nasal gastric tube for a few months during and after his treatment,” said Michelle.

“At times that was quite stressful as he threw up the tube quite a few times but became a champ at getting it reinserted.”

By September 2020, Asher had made such an impressive recovery that the family were able to return home relatively early after his transplant.

“That was probably helped by the fact he had a sibling donor,” said Michelle. “He’s always been strong-willed and is a pretty tough cookie.

“He’s now returned to school and is back playing soccer. Sometimes I have to remind myself what he went through as it feels like we have the old Asher back.”

Asher now has check-ups every three months to monitor the bone marrow graft and make sure there are no cancer cells in his blood.

The family on Asher’s 7th birthday just after returning home from Brisbane.
The family on Asher’s 7th birthday just after returning home from Brisbane.

“We will be celebrating each milestone he reaches without complications as there is still a higher risk of relapse within five years and the development of graft vs host disease (GVHD) within two years,” said Michelle.

GVHD is a common, and sometimes serious, complication of a transplant, where some of the donor’s immune cells try to reject the patient’s own cells as foreign.

“He’ll also need all his immunisations again soon and we’ve been told that he may have some dental issues in the future due to the chemo affecting his salvia and enamel.

“But like during his treatment, we are just taking one day at a time and are looking forward to celebrating his first ‘re-birthday’ on 24 May 2021!”