Monday, December 31, 2007

Christmas no time to part

RUTH HILL - The Dominion Post | Friday, 14 December 2007

PHIL REID/The Dominion Post

FAMILY BONDING: Elijah Utting-Parker, who has leukaeumia, will have to go to Christchurch for treatment over Christmas.
View video: Elijah won't be home for Christmas
Blog: Growing up with cancer

Little Elijah Utting-Parker won't be home for Christmas – but at least he will have his family around him.

View video: Elijah won't be home for Christmas
Blog: Growing up with cancer

Elijah's parents, Olivia Utting and Charlie Parker, learned on Tuesday that the three-year- old, who has an aggressive form of leukaemia, must get his next dose of chemotherapy in Christchurch because of staff shortages at Wellington Hospital. "It sucks – but he is under a high-risk treatment protocol and it's just not safe for him to stay here," Ms Utting said.

Initially they intended to leave Noah, 11, and two-year-old Taziyah with their grandparents in Wellington – but yesterday they decided to take the whole family.

"We didn't want to be split up for Christmas . . . It's hard when you are torn between your sick child who needs you, and your other kids who still need you."

Elijah's illness was diagnosed in July, days after the unit was forced to close to new patients with the departure of one of its two specialists.

"He was diagnosed on Monday night. By 2pm Tuesday we were in Christchurch," Ms Utting said. "We didn't even have time to digest the information, we just had to leave our other two kids and go . . . It was horrible."

They were there for six weeks. Transferring back to Wellington was also difficult because Elijah had got used to the nurses and doctors and the way things were done in Christchurch.

Wellington's remaining paediatric oncologist, Anne Mitchell, who departs in January, is on two weeks' leave after months of being on-call for 24 hours a day.

Because of the severe side-effects Elijah has suffered so far, he needs close monitoring.

For most of the past month – "the worst of his little life" – he has also been without his father, Charlie, who was in Ghana helping his own recently widowed mother. Now they only want to be together as a family.

Asked how he feels about going to Christchurch, Elijah said: "It's better to be home, isn't it?" Ms Utting said Elijah "doesn't really remember not being sick". "We tell him he has to get a little bit sick to get a lot better and he accepts that."

Capital and Coast's child health services manager Kaye Hudson said plans were in place for all Dr Mitchell's patients, to ensure that they did not miss any treatment.

Meanwhile, management and clinical representatives from Wellington Hospital are set to meet their counterparts from Canterbury District Health Board on Tuesday to decide a draft plan for a joint service for child cancer services.

Ms Hudson said the two services were already working closely together, with Canterbury's clinical leader visiting the Wellington unit weekly, and a Christchurch nurse leading a two- day teaching seminar for Wellington nurses working in paediatric oncology.

A locum was due to start a six-month contract next month and international recruitment efforts had attracted at least eight expressions of interest in the two permanent specialist positions.

* Olivia Utting discusses Elijah's cancer treatment at

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