Boy, 9, has ‘life or death’ cancer surgery after complaining of sore tummy

A brave boy endured pioneering “life or death” surgery to reinsert his liver after he complained to his mum that he had sore tummy.

Saul Hayden, 9, started to feel sick and lost his appetite before he and his mum realised the situation was more serious than they could have possibly imagined.

His mum, Vicki Kay-Spruce, 32, thought at first her son had come down with a virus after he complained about stomach pains in April, 2019, Birmingham Mail reports .

She felt his belly in a bid to reassure Hayden that he was fine and “felt a strange lump” and took her son to Warrington Hospital’s A&E.

Once there, doctors performed an ultrasound which picked up a mass on Saul’s liver.

She was told to take Hayden to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and received the devastating news her son had cancer .

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His cancer was described as one of the rarest forms recorded by medical literature, being identified in just 53 other people worldwide and associated with "poor outcomes".

It's usually found in children aged under three and tumour progression is so aggressive that survival "remains dismal" if treatment proves unsuccessful.

A journal states only five of the recorded cases survived.

Vicki said: "I remember the first time they said he had cancer and I was devastated. They said it was in his liver and spread to his lungs through an artery.

"It was heartbreaking and I didn't go a single day without crying for a long time.

"You just never think an eight-year-old boy would ever get cancer.

"It's terrifying because there were no real signs and he seemed fine.

"But it had been there a few months and had spread.

"He was given a poor prognosis because of how aggressive it is. This cancer can change quickly and react to treatment in a bad way.

"We were told it is one of the most difficult cancers to treat.

"The outlook they gave him was not good but they said they would do whatever they could."

Vicki said doctors told her operating was too risky and the cancer had to be reduced to make surgery an option.

Saul started a programme of 13 rounds of chemotherapy and often struggled to cope with the side effects of the treatment, Vicki said.

After more than 80 days of chemotherapy a scan in August revealed the cancer had shrunk enough for doctors to consider a life-or-death operation.

On September 18 at Birmingham Children's Hospital, medics isolated the blood flow to Saul's liver, physically removed the organ and cut out the cancerous cells.

Surgeons also completely removed the infected artery – which connected his liver to his heart – and made him a new one from two donations, from a 75-year-old and 25-year-old man.

Vicki said: "Without the surgery there was no chance for him.

"The operation was so rare they were reluctant to do it at all.

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"They were worried he wouldn't make it at all. I was told one in ten adults don't survive this type of operation so it was even riskier for him.

"I can't put into words what it has been like for us.

"The doctors are amazed at how well he has done but still won't tell us what the outlook is. They don't want to give is false hope."

Saul was on a programme of combined radiotherapy and chemotherapy as doctors do all they can to kill off the remaining cancer.

The programme finished in January – and a scan reveal there was no longer any "evidence of disease".

Vicki said: "I don't know how but he has found the strength from somewhere to keep smiling through everything.

"They have said they are amazed at how well he has done. We were warned that him not surviving was more likely than survival. It's the worst prognosis before saying it's terminal."

Boots worker Vicki said of the treatment ending: "It was one of the best days of my life. It's the best news I could have ever wished for.

"We are looking forward to being a normal family again and it does feel strange to know he doesn't need anymore treatment.

"It has been the hardest year of our life. This cancer took over everything we have done.

"Saul is absolutely amazing and I can't find the words for how proud I am of him.

"He is the most amazing person I have ever met. The way he has fought this is just incredible.

"I can't find the words for what this means to us. Even the doctors said they didn't think we'd ever get to this point."

Vicki is back at work and hopes Saul will be back in school before the end of the year.

Doctors will continue to monitor his recovery and Saul will have a scan every six weeks to make sure the cancer stays at bay.

Last year Vicki set up a JustGiving page to raise £12,500 to send Saul on his dream holiday to America – which the family are planning for October.

  • Family
  • Cancer

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