Aplastic anaemia: No easy ride
While most 16-year-olds are spending their time finishing school and hanging out with friends, Jessie Paterson has been facing the greatest challenge imaginable – a life-threatening blood disorder.
With her mum, Jennifer, constantly by her side Jessie has spent long periods of time away from their 328-acre home in the small town of Yelarbon in south central Queensland since her diagnosis of aplastic anaemia in 2012.
Jessie had only recently lost her father to prostate cancer when she was first diagnosed aged 13.
“I was very pale, my lips were white and I was really tired. I remember not being able to get out of bed for my Mum’s 50th birthday party,” Jessie said.
Blood tests revealed that Jessie’s platelet count was dangerously low at only 2 per microlitre of blood. The normal range is 150,000 to 450,000.
“At first they thought I had leukaemia. They couldn’t airlift me to Brisbane because with such a low platelet count the cabin pressure could have caused serious bleeding,” Jessie said.
Jessie and Jennifer instead travelled to Royal Brisbane Women’s Hospital by ambulance.
“We had only brought enough clothes for three days and ended up staying for nine months,” Jennifer said.
Jennifer said she does not know how she would have coped without the help of the Leukaemia Foundation.
“It was really overwhelming having Jessie so sick and being so far from home, so we were so grateful the Leukaemia Foundation was able to offer support,” she said.
Jessie went through chemotherapy, Atgam and Cyclosporin, to treat her aplastic anaemia before returning home to begin year 9.
“Because my immune system was low my teachers put antibacterial soap in all the classrooms,” she said.
Jessie had a planned stem cell transplant last September after a suitable donor was found overseas. She spent 92 days in hospital, including six days in intensive care with pneumonia.
Jessie is now back at home and returns to Brisbane every four weeks for tests.
“It definitely hasn’t been an easy ride but I’m feeling a little bit stronger every day and like life is that little bit more normal.”
What is aplastic anaemia?
Aplastic anaemia is a rare disorder in which the bone marrow fails to produce enough blood cells. This happens because the normal blood forming cells called stem cells are placed by abnormal fat cells.
Although aplastic anaemia is not a malignant disease (cancer) it can be very serious, especially if the bone marrow is severely affected and there are very few blood cells left in circulation. Learn more about aplastic anaemia.