The family of a three-year-old Derry girl who survived a potentially fatal operation to remove a complex cancer tumour almost two years ago have spoken of their delight at her progress.
And with the family determined to give something back following all the support they have received, little Kari Barrett’s aunt Shauna Walsh and her husband JP enlisted the help of some local runners to raise £2,000 for the Neuroblastoma Child Cancer Alliance (NCCA) by running the Waterside Half Marathon, with the money all now collected and the big cheque being handed over.
Earlier this year Kari celebrated her third birthday. It was a day her family feared they might never see, but tough little cookie Kari has come a long way since the ground-breaking operation in Southampton General Hospital in October 2013, which, her parents were told, she had only a 50% chance of surviving.
In fact she is doing so well that last weekend Kari was flower girl at her uncle’s wedding alongside big brother Jamie (7) who was page boy at the nuptials.
Kari’s parents Kevin and Lorraine are delighted with her progress.
Lorraine said: “She is flying. She is getting on brilliantly and the doctors are very happy with her.
“We were down with her oncologist a few weeks ago and everything was all clear. They are going to do an MRI in a month or two, then hopefully she will get back on to the three-monthly review with oncology.”
Kevin and Lorraine received the devastating news that Kari had the childhood cancer neuroblastoma a month after her first birthday.
By the autumn of 2013, after running out of options, Kevin and Lorraine Barrett left their home in the Buncrana Road area and flew with Kari to Southampton General Hospital for pioneering surgery.
It was their only hope after successive bouts of chemotherapy had no impact on the tumour, which was wrapping itself around Kari’s vital organs.
The couple made the heart-breaking decision to go ahead with the operation despite being told there was a 50% chance their little daughter would not survive it. They knew it was her only chance.
As her parents held a 13-hour vigil outside the ward, against all odds surgeons managed to uncoil and remove the entire tumour- something not even the medical team themselves thought possible.
During Kari’s operation, her family said they drew great strength and comfort from the prayers and well wishes of the hundreds of people back home waiting anxiously for news.
More than 1,000 people wished them well over that 13 hour period via a Facebook page set up for Kari’s appeal.
Kevin and Lorraine broke the news with the online message: “They got it! They got it! They got it all out. My God our prayers have been answered! Thank you all so so much, we all did it together.”
Kari lost a kidney and her adrenal glands in the process, and while her progress has been amazing since, there was a recent emergency that served as a reminder how serious her condition has been.
“Kari recently ended up in Resus because of her adrenal glands ,” Lorraine said. “She literally just took a bug, but because she has no adrenal glands she ended up in Intensive Care Unit in the Royal and they had to ventilate her. She was in a bad way, but within two days she just bounced back.
“She is amazing. For her age now she is doing everything she should be doing, and to look at her physically and mentally there are no signs anything was ever wrong. The only concern is keeping on top of her medication, making sure it is done on time because if that didn’t happen, you would see her starting to go down.”
Kari’s mother said that the medical team still keep a close eye on her.
“We sent over a wee photo of Kari to her surgeon Mr Wheeler one year after the operation and he sent us back a lovely letter saying he was delighted to see how well she had done considering the extent of the operation.”
Speaking about Kari today, her mother said: “She rules the roost and bosses everybody about.
“Her and Jamie get on great. He is very caring, always looking after her and making sure she is alright.”
Praising her sister Shauna and JP and the others for the fundraising, Lorraine added: “Fair play, they done a great job. With the generosity we received when Kari wasn’t well we all feel it is important to try and give something back. That is so important to us.
“NCCA does a great job and is always researching and trying to find better treatment for that kind of cancer and they can’t do it without funding.
“I just hope further down the line there will be far better treatment available for children. At the minute if they do relapse, there is not much can be done, so this research is very important.”