Bumping his head on the trampoline was a sore one for little Brodie Halliday… but probably saved his life after a scan revealed a tumour the size of a tennis ball in his brain.
Mum Kirstie said: “Brodie had no symptoms of a tumour at all, so we think the bump on the head may have dislodged something or put pressure on the tumour, as that’s when he started to feel unwell.
“It was a saving grace. If he hadn’t hit his head, it could have been a long time before the tumour was spotted, which could have made everything much more difficult.
“The risk to his speech, mobility – and his life – would have been heightened the longer the tumour went unnoticed.”
Brodie, now four, from Fountainhall, in the Borders, bumped his head while playing in his aunt’s garden in July 2019. In the weeks that followed, he complained of headaches in the mornings and started being sick. Nursery manager Kirstie also noticed his posture was starting to change, as if his back was curving.
Doctors sent him to Borders General Hospital for an urgent CT scan, then transferred Brodie to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children Edinburgh, where specialists diagnosed posterior fossa anaplastic ependymoma – and delivered the devastating news that there was a massive tumour, wrapped around Brodie’s spinal cord and the major nerves to his lungs and heart.
“The news came as a shock. It was devastating and heartbreaking,” said Kirstie, 36. “Brodie was so young and it was so unexpected – but we were ready to fight to give Brodie the very best chance. I’m a very positive thinker and we knew it was going to be a journey but that Brodie would come out on the other side.”
Experts said the tumour had probably been growing for a few months, and it was likely the bump on the trampoline had brought the symptoms out more rapidly. It could have gone unnoticed otherwise. The following day, Brodie was in theatre having a valve fitted and a few days later back on the operating table where medics spent eight hours carefully taking away 70% of the tumour.
Then he endured three months of chemotherapy to try to reduce the remaining mass. The hospital became a second home for Kirstie and Brodie, as well as sister Indiana, now eight, and dad Jamie.
Kirstie said: “We had to stay in hospital throughout, which was hard. But thanks to Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity there were clown doctors and musicians and a hub, where I could take Indiana to do arts and crafts – and even just have a cup of tea – and a change of scenery.
“We also enjoyed bedtime stories, more music, dancing and magic. Friendly faces who were never in a rush and didn’t mind if there were 10 children or just one joining in, they were just always happy to give their time.
“Over the months, the artists and volunteers became an important part of Brodie’s hospital life.”
The charity also gifted Brodie Beads of Courage, with each new bead representing a treatment or milestone.
“Brodie is so proud of his beads – and we are too,” said Kirstie. “They show every scan, jab, surgery and medicine he has endured – and remind us just how far he has come.”
In December 2019, four months after diagnosis, Brodie underwent further surgery, with the result that 99% of the tumour was now eliminated.
But, to be absolutely certain, it was decided he would be transferred to Liverpool for specialised radiotherapy. He became one of the first in the UK to receive the pioneering treatment.
Eight weeks – and 35 radiotherapy rounds later – Brodie returned to the Sick Kids hospital in Edinburgh where he spent another four months undergoing more chemotherapy.
He was finally discharged in August last year, after spending more than 12 months in hospital – and going through some of the toughest parts of his treatment during lockdown, with only Kirstie allowed to visit.
“It was a lonely time,” said Kirstie, “but we got through it. Brodie is still here – and that’s all that matters. We just couldn’t be more thankful.”
More than a Hospital
Brodie’s treatment will continue at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People, which opened last month.
The £150 million facility includes an emergency department, 242 beds, 10 theatres and wards, outdoor play areas and physical and mental health specialities.
There is also an art and therapeutic design programme – towards which Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity (ECHC) has provided £3.1m of funding – a helipad and accommodation for families. As facilities are connected to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh paediatric care, specialist neonatal care, neurosciences and both emergency departments are now all on the same site. This reduces the need for emergency transfers between hospitals, and ensures staff can share skills and expertise.
Victoria Buchanan, ECHC deputy director of fundraising, said: “RHCYP will be more than a hospital. With the generosity of our supporters, children and young people will receive the best medical care and ECHC will be there to transform the hospital experience for them and their families.
“Wards will become discos, magic shows and art galleries. Music and play will fill waiting rooms, corridors and courtyards. Our aim is to ease worries and let imaginations thrive.
“No child or young person wants to be in hospital but if they have to be, ECHC will make sure they don’t miss out on their childhoods.”
To donate, visit echcharity.org/support-us/morethanahospital
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