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Cornish Dad Tells How Pioneering Treatment Allows Him To Put His Children To Bed At Night

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7:01am 8th November 2013

A Cornish dad battling cancer says a unique treatment scheme means he can be home to put his children to bed.

Andy MacDonald from St Columb is having stem cells harvested at Treliske then getting a final massive surge of chemo at Derriford.

In other parts of the country patients have to travel miles for the same treatment.

Patients with Myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow, and lymphoma, cancer of the lymphatic system are treated with several courses of chemotherapy and once in remission, stem cells are collected from their blood and then re-introduced after a massive, final dose of chemotherapy.

Dr Bryson Pottinger said: "Stem Cell treatment is the gold standard for these conditions and we are able to offer most of that here in Truro as part of the South West Peninsula Stem Cell Programme. The treatment is a long, complex process with a lot of associated regulation around it. In hospitals of this size in most other parts of the country you would expect to send people away for that kind of treatment.

"Because of our unique programme, we are able to treat patients locally with their chemotherapy and then when they achieve remission, we harvest their stem cells and send them to Plymouth where they are stored in liquid nitrogen. A few weeks later, the patient is sent to Derriford for a final chemotherapy session and the stem cells are then re-introduced and the patient returns to Cornwall."

By doing it this way, the patient only spends a week out of the county and is then able to spend their recovery time at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, closer to home.

Andy MacDonald from St Columb Major is one of those benefiting from the service. Andrew, 27, was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma in February 2011 after suffering with hip and leg pain.

Andrew said: "The diagnosis was very unexpected. My GP had initially thought it was sciatica but after various tests and visits to the hospital it was discovered I had a tumour on my hip and more in my stomach."

Andrew started six months of chemotherapy and was in remission for three months before he was told it had come back. This time he is undergoing a stem cell transplant as part of his treatment.

The young dad said: "Being able to have most of my treatment done here in Truro is definitely an advantage. It just means a bit of stability, I have a partner and two young kids. I had to be here at the hospital for the harvest at 8.15am, if I'd had to go all the way to Derriford it would have been a problem. This all just helps to keep some normality."

Following his stem cell harvest, Andrew was able to go home and in four to six weeks he will be off to Derriford for a week for the transplant. He will then be able to return to the Royal Cornwall Hospital for around three weeks of isolation while his body replenishes its immunity.

Dr Pottinger added: "These patients are in hospital for three to four weeks so if they had to go away for that time it would be really quite disruptive. This way they are away for about a week but can then come back here to recover. It is nice to be able to do this so patients don't have to travel as much."

While there is a national move in the NHS to group complex procedures into smaller numbers of centres of excellence, the Stem Cell Transplant Service at the Royal Cornwall Hospital is an example of how a centralised service does not have to mean centralised care.

Dr Pottinger says: "We are proud that we've developed a service that suits the geography of our population and the needs of our patient group.  We feel ours is a good model for working across multiple sites with elements delivered at each and it has obvious benefits for both patients and staff. The patients are able to stay in the care of their local hospital and doctors. We, as a team, are able to draw on a wider group of colleagues when reviewing patients and sharing problems."

Stem Cell and Transplant co-ordinator Teresa Batchelor helps patients through the transplant. Assisting her are four nurses from the Headland Unit who are all specially trained in stem cell harvests and there is a programme which is currently training two more.

Teresa said: "This is a tough treatment to go through. Patients, particularly those with myeloma, can spend up to two days, four and a half hours a day, having their stem cells harvested before going to Derriford for their transplant. If we can make it a smooth and seamless service for our patients, that's a good thing. It really is about helping Cornish patients spend as much time as close to home as possible."

Dr Pottinger added: "We are very proud of the quality of nursing care that is involved in this. From a nurse perspective it is a very specialised field and involves doing something technical and challenging."

7:01am 8th November 2013

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