Family’s hope in US vaccine for little girl with rare cancer

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The family of a little girl with a rare cancer are pinning their hopes on a vaccine in the US in a bid to stop the disease returning.

Ava Bolton’s parents have raised £290,000 to pay for the experimental treatment, which is so far available only at a New York clinic.

Three-year-old Ava was diagnosed in February after she started limping and became pale and lethargic.

At first, her parents, technician Scott, 34, and Natalie, 35, a nurse, thought their daughter had picked up a virus.

But when bruising appeared around Ava’s eyes, they took her to their GP, who sent them to hospital.

Scott said: “We were not prepared for what came next.

“Ava had further checks and they sampled her bone marrow. Preliminary results came back that night, which showed abnormal cells. She then had a second bone marrow test and a CT scan which confirmed that Ava had cancer.”

The youngster was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma – a rare childhood cancer with a 50/50 survival rate – at the University Hospital Crosshouse in Kilmarnock.

Scott said: “We were in pure shock. You don’t ever imagine you will be told your child has cancer.”

Ava, who has completed chemotherapy and radiotherapy, will begin immunotherapy in a week.

Scott said the tot’s bravery had been a reminder of how resilient children can be.

If tests later show she is in remission, Scott and Natalie, who also have a son Lucas, six, plan to take her to New York to get the jab in a trial at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre.

The vaccine is experimental and there is not enough data yet to prove whether it cuts the risk of a relapse.

Ava’s family, from Mauchline, East Ayrshire, will be among dozens who have fundraised and travelled to New York desperate to boost their children’s survival chances.

The Daily Express Back Britain to Beat Childhood Cancer campaign is calling for the UK to fund research so children will be able to have the vaccine here.

It would cost an estimated £10million-£15million for the UK to lead the European side of a transatlantic clinical trial of the vaccine.

While Ava’s family have surpassed their £250,000 fundraising target, they continue to collect donations as they do not yet know the final cost.

Scott said: “Neuroblastoma has a high relapse rate of 60% and this treatment will stop it from returning.

“Ava needs to finish her NHS treatment before we can fly to the US.”

“Once she has completed immunotherapy we will find out if she is completely free of
cancer. If not, we will carry on with treatment.”

He added: “I feel very mixed emotions about what we have been going through as a family, but we are so grateful for all the support we have received.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Being diagnosed with cancer is devastating for anyone, but especially for children and their families.”

“We’re making huge progress in the fight against cancer with the NHS seeing and treating record numbers of cancer patients over the last two years. Treatment of childhood cancers has also greatly improved with survival rates for children diagnosed with cancer up to 86.2%.”

“We know how important research is and we invest £1 billion a year to support research into a wide range of cancers including the treatment for neuroblastoma.”

You can donate to Ava Bolton’s appeal by visiting gofundme.com/f/help-fund-avas-stage-4-neuroblastoma-treatment

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