Seven year old Liberty Taylor and her family want to say thank you to the blood donors that gave her 'go-go juice' to help her fight against Leukaemia. Seeing the change the blood transfusions made, her mother Melissa Taylor knew Liberty would not have made it without the blood.
Melissa recalls the exact date, 4 November 2003, the day she and husband Matt received the crushing news that their four year old daughter, Liberty, had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.
Pale, tired and complaining of stomach cramps, Liberty had not been her usual self all that month, even requesting to go in her push chair rather than run around as she usually did. Assuming she had some sort of iron deficiency, Melissa took her to the GP for a routine blood test. The results were horrifying. Melissa was out to lunch with her colleagues when her GP tried to reach her. Missing her cell phone calls, the GP contacted Melissa's mother who then delivered the devastating news to her over the restaurant phone.
Liberty was rushed to Auckland Hospital to start treatment immediately with a red cell blood transfusion. The devastated family were in a state of disbelief on the way to the hospital and Melissa and husband Matt wore dark glasses to conceal their tears from both Liberty and her younger sister Holly, two years old at the time. Liberty had a bone marrow test sample collected the next day marking the beginning of a two year gruelling treatment process.
Acute leukaemia is a cancer of the white blood cells. It causes an overproduction of immature white blood cells which fill the bone marrow and prevent it from making red blood cells and platelets properly. The leukaemia cells do not mature and as a result cannot do the work of normal white blood cells, which leads to an increased risk of infection.
After her diagnosis, Liberty received an emergency blood transfusion to bump up her red blood cell count. Melissa and Matt were at first apprehensive about the transfusion but when they saw the transformation in their daughter, they were amazed. Says Melissa, "The worst thing about cancer is not the hair loss but rather the paleness in your child's face. You can see that they are really ill. Sometimes Liberty was so pale, her lips were barely visible. After a blood transfusion, the colour came back into her cheeks and her lips were pink again. They call it ''go-go'' juice at the hospital because by the end of the transfusion the children were up dancing."
When Liberty was diagnosed with cancer, instead of flowers or gifts, Melissa's work mates gave blood. Melissa said that was the best gift they could have given and she hopes her family's story can encourage more Kiwis to donate.
Liberty received transfusions of five units (doses) of red blood cells and three units of platelets. She also had a dose of Varicella Zoster IgG, another blood product that contains concentrated antibodies. It helps to prevent the recipient catching chicken pox which can be fatal for Leukaemia sufferers.
Liberty had to live for one year in virtual isolation to avoid harmful germs. Two years and two months of treatment meant daily visits to the hospital, and hospital stays for periods of a week or more at a time. Harsh chemotherapy and steroid treatments left Melissa and Matt with an almost unrecognisable child at times, both in looks and personality. On a good day, Liberty could go to the park but it would have to be at 6am to avoid other children who could carry harmful germs.
Liberty's mum and dad promised her that when she finished her treatment she could go to Disneyland. "It was really important that we remained positive," says Melissa. "The goal of getting better for the trip to Disneyland really helped Liberty in the down times. No matter how sick she became she was always able to talk about the first ride she would go on at Disneyland." And she achieved her goal. Her treatment ended on 29 December 2005 and she is now in remission. The family went to Disneyland on March 31 2006.