The finger of suspicion

Doctors thought I'd harmed my baby - but the truth was even more horrifying

Published by: Dawn Murden and Isabelle Loynes
Published on: 14 March 2013

As we pulled into the driveway, my sons Keenan and Ethan came rushing out to meet us.
‘Is he here?' Keenan beamed, jumping up and down.
‘He sure is,' my hubby Darren, 33, smiled.
We'd just got back from hospital, and sleeping soundly in the back was Ryan, the newest member of our brood.
When me and Darren had married 10 years earlier, we knew we wanted three children. So baby Ryan completed our family.
Inside, the boys couldn't wait to get to know their new brother.
When he cried, five-year-old Ethan would come rushing over with Ryan's favourite Mickey Mouse teddy. And every time he needed feeding, nine-year-old Keenan liked to help.
Ryan was such a smiley baby, so I was concerned when he got a cold and wasn't his usual happy self. Then, one afternoon, I heard him crying in the sitting room.
‘Oh dear,' I soothed, scooping him up. Then I noticed a faint bruise on his left eyelid.
As I gently kissed him, he giggled. Ethan and Keenan had always picked up little bumps and bruises as babies, so I wasn't that worried.
But when I put Ryan to bed the next evening, I saw the bruise had spread to his right eye. And his left eye looked as if it was slightly turned inwards.
‘I'm taking him to the out-of-hours doctor,' I panicked.
‘Best to be safe,' Darren agreed.
At the clinic, the doctor started to examine him. Then I saw the colour drain from her face.
‘What is it?' I panicked.
‘You tell me,' she scowled, her eyes scanning me up and down.
‘What's that supposed to mean?' I gasped in horror.
‘His symptoms are consistent with shaken baby syndrome,' she said.
Anger and adrenalin pulsed through my veins as I tried to stay calm. How could she even think that? I thought.
‘I wouldn't hurt my own child,' I said, trying to fight back tears.
‘Has anyone else been looking after him?' she asked.
‘I won't listen to this,' I said, storming out.
Darren was livid when I told him what had happened.
‘I've a good mind to go down there...' he started.
‘Leave it,' I said. ‘I'll go and see our GP in the morning.'
That night, I hardly slept, worrying about what was wrong with Ryan, but also fearing someone from social services would knock on the door.
The next morning, I went straight to the GP with Ryan.
‘There does seem to be some trauma to his head,' he said. ‘I'll refer him to hospital.'
Ryan was sent for an MRI scan, and, afterwards, a consultant came and sat us down.
‘We found a tumour on Ryan's kidney,' she said. ‘It's cancerous.'
While tears streamed down my cheeks, I turned to Darren who was frozen with shock.
We had to get stuff from home before going to Addenbrooke's Hospital. In the car, I felt angry about the out-of-hours doctor.
‘She accused me of harming my own son,' I cried. ‘Now he could be dying.'
‘Don't think like that,' Darren soothed. ‘We need to stay positive.'
He was right. What good would my anger do?
My mum Christine looked after the boys while we stayed with Ryan in hospital. After a week of tests, the doctor had some news.
‘He has got stage four neuroblastoma, the worst type,' he said. ‘There's also a tumour in his head, which is pressing on his eyes and damaging his sight, so he'll need chemotherapy immediately.' Then he warned, ‘But you must prepare for the worst. He only has a 25 per cent chance of survival.'
Ryan began chemo straight away and, within a few weeks, the tumours were shrinking.
‘But there's no hope for his sight,' a consultant told us. He explained that Ryan was completely blind in his right eye and had minimal sight in the left.
To think my little boy might never see our faces again was heartbreaking. But blind or not, he was alive.
A few weeks later, we were allowed home. But we couldn't go out much in case Ryan caught
an infection.
After four months of treatment, we were hoping for good news. But when we sat down with the consultant, it wasn't to be.
‘The tumours haven't shrunk as we'd hoped,' he said sympathetically. ‘There's nothing more we can do.'
‘No!' I sobbed.
‘When you're ready, we'll arrange palliative care,'
Me and Darren hardly spoke to each other, unable to process the news.
That night, I held Keenan and Ethan in my arms.
‘Ryan's still not well,' I told them.
Ethan wandered off to play, but Keenan understood better.
‘Is he going to die?' he asked, lip quivering.
‘Let's just make the most of every moment,' I explained.
A few days later, I started making preparations for Ryan's funeral. While I was searching for information, I came across the charity Families Against Neuroblastoma (FAN).
I gave them a call and Linda, one of organisers, offered us the charity's caravan in Hunstanton, Norfolk, to stay in.
‘Go and enjoy some family time together,' she soothed.
We spent a wonderful week playing on the beach.
I'm so happy we've had this holiday before we have to say goodbye, I thought as we lay on the beach on the last day.
My thoughts were interrupted by my phone. It was the hospital.
‘We've got good news,' the doctor said. ‘Ryan's last bone marrow test came back clear. It means we are able to try another type of chemo.' It was the miracle we'd prayed for.
Back home, Ryan started his chemo. Within weeks, the tumour in his head had completely gone and the one on his kidney had shrunk enough for an op to remove it.
Three weeks after the surgery, we celebrated his first birthday. He seemed like a new little boy.
‘We're 98 per cent sure the cancer's gone,' the doctor told us at an appointment.
There's still a chance he could relapse, so we're raising money with the help of FAN for treatment in Germany, just in case. We've raised £28,000 so far through auctions and bike rides.
Ryan's 20 months old now and, even though he's not officially in remission, we feel more hopeful for the future now.
He's battled so hard to stay with us, so we will never give up on him.

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Hayley Wright, 32, North Walsham, Norfolk