LINKE Nel is little fighter.
When she was just 14 months old, the little girl from rural South Africa came down with a case of pneumonia and no antibiotic seemed to help.
After four cycles of the drug, there was no solid improvement. Her temperature remained, and so her mother Rene, drove her four hours to seek help from their local hospital. It was there she was given the worst news imaginable.
She was told her daughter would not make her second birthday.
“Linke was diagnosed with leukemia … and she had six months of treatment in South Africa, and the doctor said they’d run out of options for her … her bloods were 98 per cent cancer cells,” Mrs Nel said.
“The treating oncologist went and had a look in the medical journal to see if he could find a treatment available for her and he couldn’t.”
Mrs Nel was “very scared” by the diagnosis, and said that the fear of the unknown left her and husband Brandt desperate for a second opinion.
“Your perception of what cancer is … it’s not something that children deal with at that time, that’s not the perception,” she said. “It changes your world.”
Mrs Nel and her husband went straight to Dr Google in a bid to find a way to save their youngest child, sending 130 emails to locations around the world.
12 hours later, they got a single response.
“Dr Luce [from Westmead Children’s Hospital] was the only one to respond,” Mrs Nel said. “And he just said send all her medical files, which I did, and within 24 hours he said ‘I can help her’. So as soon as we could, my son, daughter and myself were on a plane and my husband joined us about eight weeks later.
“We sold pretty much everything we had to afford making it possible for her to get treatment here.”
Mrs Nel said Dr Luciano Dalla-Pozza — nicknamed ‘Dr Luce’ — assessed Linke’s condition as soon as they arrived in Australia, and began a clinical trial with her the very next day. By the end of the first month, Linke was in remission.
“It was remarkable,” she said.
“The journey has been tough … it’s not a normal life you wish on any child.
“But we are thankful to have her and be able to reach different milestones that we’d been told we wouldn’t have. To see her go out and make friends and special bonds which she was robbed of when she was a little girl.”
The Nel family, who live in Western Sydney, said they wouldn’t have been able to make the move Down Under — and save their precious daughter — if it wasn’t for the support and research from the Children’s Medical Research Institute (CMRI).
Mrs Nel said if it wasn’t for the institute’s work, Linke wouldn’t be joining them for Christmas this year, and is urging Australian’s to donate to the cause as part of Giving Tuesday.
Giving Tuesday, on November 28, is a global movement to encourage philanthropy. It encourages people to stop and think about how they want to “give” this Christmas. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on presents, people are urged to give to charities and not-for-profits such as the institute’s cancer research program, ProCan.
“The thing with CMRI and the research that goes on in Australia, it’s on such a high level, but we don’t all know that that’s going on,’’ she said.
“To me, research is important because it gives children a chance, it gives them that fair chance at life. Research makes the difference, research gives them a longer life, or a chance at having a normal life.
“It needs to be explained to all the people who haven’t been on that journey, because what does cancer mean to you when you haven’t been touched by it?
“It doesn’t mean much if it’s somebody else’s child, but once you’ve been on the journey, and you realise what research has given you … it’s given her back to me. I completely believe that if it wasn’t for her doctor and the trial chemotherapy that he was able to provide for her, that we wouldn’t have her today.’’
Children’s Medical Research Institute is at the forefront of international research into cancer and leads the revolutionary ProCan project.
This not-for-profit institute is funded by competitive grants and a community of supporters who participate in events such as Jeans for Genes Day.
Show your support for Giving Tuesday by donating and using the hashtag #GivingTuesday and visit cmri.org.au to make your gift.