A 38-year-old Kent woman who was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia while pregnant has raised more than three thousand pounds for the hospital that saved her life and the life of her son.
Kelly Ladbrooke from Marden was 24-weeks pregnant with her second baby when she was diagnosed at her local hospital with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) – a type of blood cancer that starts from young white blood cells called lymphocytes in the bone marrow.
She was rushed to King’s College Hospital, a leading blood cancer centre, for treatment after suffering a range of symptoms including nosebleeds, pale skin and feeling increasingly unwell, which she initially thought was anaemia. “When I first received the diagnosis, it was a whirlwind, said Kelly. “I was so ill with pneumonia that I didn’t really process what was happening, but I knew I was in safe hands at King’s and I had to stay strong for my unborn baby,” she added.
Doctors knew how rare it was to develop ALL during pregnancy and that prompt treatment was critical to give Kelly the best chance of survival. Dr Deborah Yallop, Consultant Haematologist at King’s, who cared for Kelly, explained, “The chances of developing acute lymphoblastic leukaemia while pregnant is extremely rare. Although King’s is a specialist centre for blood conditions and we treat patients from across south-east England, I have only seen three cases of patients diagnosed with leukaemia in pregnancy in the last six years.”
In every case, timely treatment with chemotherapy is crucial but the risks of receiving it while pregnant are relatively unknown, and delivering a baby at just six months’ gestation can be harmful for the baby. “It was a really difficult decision for Kelly and her family,” Dr Yallop explained. “We discussed the different options to her but she was determined to continue with the pregnancy so we cautiously began chemotherapy.”
At seven months’ pregnant Kelly underwent a caesarean section and her son Lenny was born. He spent a month in the neo-natal intensive care unit before being well enough to go home.
In addition to chemotherapy, Kelly required a stem cell (also known as a bone marrow) transplant to replace the damaged blood cells with healthy ones. Her brother Steven Riches was a complete match and donated his stem cells to Kelly. “The transplant was a big shock,” she explained. “I’d read about chemo being hard but that was even tougher,” she added.
Kelly spent four months in King’s before she was able to go home to be with baby Lenny, older son Bobby and husband Chris. Treatment was successful and Kelly has been cancer-free for four years. Lenny is now a fit and healthy four-year-old who is starting school in September, which is also Blood Cancer Awareness Month.
To thank the haematology and neonatal departments at King’s for saving her life and caring for Lenny, Kelly held a red carpet event for family and friends which raised £3,300 for the hospital. She said, “No amount of money is enough to thank King’s for the care they provided but this is a gesture of our appreciation.” The money will be spent on making the environment more comfortable for other patients.