A young girl with a rare tumour the size of a golf ball had surgery to remove it through her nose.
Scarlett Ashcroft-Gardner endured a nine-and-a-half-hour operation to remove the craniopharyngioma – a benign tumour which affects the pituitary gland and production of hormones. Scarlett, who was only 12-years-old when she underwent the complicated surgery, spent just 12 days in recovery and even made it home in time for her 13th birthday.
Her grateful family, touched by the amazing care they received for their daughter, are now raising money for Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity. Dad Andrew was due to take part in the Manchester Half Marathon back in May. Sadly the event was postponed and then cancelled, so Andy has completed the challenge around the family’s home of Darwen, Lancashire instead and hopes to raise £6,000.
“We were just blown away by the care and support received. We always vowed that as a family we would raise money as a thank you for all the wonderful support Scarlett received.
“I have always held the NHS in high regard but having seen first-hand the level of care Scarlett received my respect for them has gone through the roof.”
Scarlett’s parents Andrew and Kathryn, both 45, first realised something was amiss when they noticed Scarlett wasn’t growing as much as her peers. But other family members aren’t particularly tall, so they thought perhaps it was a genetic trait. Then Scarlett started suffering from headaches which gradually worsened.
“We took her for an eye test and she was given reading glasses. She was diagnosed with being longsighted but the glasses didn’t do anything to solve her headaches.
“Her eyesight started to worsen and so did the headaches. Scarlett was due to go on a school trip to the Lake District but she had such a bad headache the day before she didn’t go. We had to take her to A&E. They checked her over but we were told to just keep an eye on things.”
Later, on a school trip to Disneyland Paris, Scarlett’s headaches got so bad she only got to meet Winnie the Pooh before having to spend most of the time in a café with the teachers. They worried she was dehydrated as it was a particularly hot day, but the family were soon to find out the real cause of the severe migraines.
“In late August/early September she had a particularly bad headache and we just thought ‘we have to get this sorted’. We booked her in for some tests with a paediatrician and at the end of September, we were referred to Royal Bolton Hospital. They tested her bone age and it was nine and she was 12, almost 13 at the time.
“At that point, we started to think something was definitely awry.”
Eventually, Scarlett was referred to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital where an MRI scan confirmed what doctors at Bolton had suspected – that she had a craniopharyngioma. Scarlett was immediately started on treatment and on Monday, 4th November 2019, she underwent the day-long surgery to have it removed.
“I was surprised when they told us how big it was. It was the size of a golf ball and had been pressing down on her brain and eyes, affecting her eyesight. It was right against her optic nerve so when they did the operation there was a danger her eyesight could have been permanently affected.
“Specialists had to be drafted in for the operation and then it was all systems go.
“Without a doubt, it was the longest day of my life. In total the surgery was nine-and-a-half-hours but to me and Kathryn, it was ten times that.
“Because they took it out in pieces through her nose there wasn’t any scarring – when we went to see her and she woke up she didn’t look any different. It was amazing. And such a relief.”
Scarlett loved the hospital and staff on Ward 78 but was determined to be well enough to get home in time for her 13th birthday: a goal she achieved!
Scarlett, who also has a little sister Grace, aged eight, said:
“Everyone on the ward was so kind and lovely. But I was really happy I was home in time for my birthday. I left two days before and it was so good.”
After her discharge home, Scarlett received follow-up treatment at The Christie. Her surgeons were sure they had removed the tumour in its entirety, but she received proton beam radiotherapy to ensure it was all cleared up.
Earlier this year she was able to ring the End Of Treatment Bell and celebrate finishing all her appointments. Since then, the family’s focus has turned to fundraising and giving something back to the people who helped Scarlett.
“I was signed up to do the Manchester Half Marathon in May, which was sadly delayed until September and has now been cancelled completely. So instead I did a half marathon around Darwen – which is a lot hillier than Manchester!
“Scarlett was also due to give an assembly in school about Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital and what happened to her. Again, that’s had to be postponed but hopefully, she will do that at some point in the future.
“I think doing your own events and doing fundraising from home will be the new normal for quite a while yet. Charities need our help now more than ever so hopefully other people will feel inspired to do something themselves.”
Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity is part of a team of hospital charities under the umbrella name of Manchester Foundation Trust Charity – which this month (July) is celebrating the NHS 72nd birthday. The Charity, which fundraises for hospitals across Manchester and Trafford, is hoping supporters will take on the #72for72NHS challenge by fundraising around the theme of the number 72. Participants can either choose to raise £72 or do a 72-themed challenge. Suggestions include 72-star jumps, running 72km in July or baking 72 cupcakes or making 72 homemade cards to sell.
Sarah Naismith, Director of Manchester Foundation Trust Charity, said:
“Scarlett, Andrew and the whole family have shown such bravery during what must have been a very trying time for them. The fact they have done some amazing fundraising afterwards really is down to our inspiring NHS staff at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.
“I hope Andrew’s own fundraising will inspire people to take on the #72for72NHS challenge and do something for one of the hospitals in our family.”
Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity fundraises throughout the year to support the treatment, research and care of young patients treated at the children’s hospital in Oxford Road, Manchester. The hospital sees more than 276,000 patients per year and takes in patients from across the North West and beyond.
Manchester Foundation Trust Charity raises funds for: Manchester Royal Infirmary; Wythenshawe Hospital; Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital; Manchester Royal Eye Hospital; Saint Mary’s Hospital, Manchester University Dental Hospital; Withington Community Hospital; Trafford General Hospital and Altrincham Hospital.
You can make a donation to Andy’s JustGiving Page here.
To sign up to the #72for72NHS challenge and get inspiration for fundraising ideas please visit: www.mftcharity.org.uk/72