A LITTLE girl whose battle with cancer united Wiganers for a record-breaking charity drive is throwing a very special party.
For when more than 100 family members, friends, classmates and well-wishers gather at the Sacred Heart social club in Springfield on April 21, it will be to mark 12 months since the completion of Emma Hoolin’s pioneering treatment to ward off an often fatal illness.
Doctors says that to go a year without a relapse from a high risk neuroblastoma is a significant achievement and landmark. It also signals a reduction in the frequency of wearying check-ups and scans she must go through at hospital: itself an indication of the progress Emma has made.
The Whitley youngster, who turns six later this month, captured the hearts of countless locals – and many more folk further afield – in 2011 after it was revealed that after weathering a gruelling range of conventional treatments, her best chance of long-term survival was a very expensive trip to the US. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia specialises in a form of intensive immunotherapy which aims to repel the hitherto almost inevitable and lethal relapse that high risk neuroblastoma patients suffer.
But there were two major obstacles: a massive £211,000 was needed to get Emma to America and the cash had to be raised in fewer than 100 days otherwise the treatment wouldn’t be effective.
A huge money-spinning and publicity machine – co-ordinated by family, friends and even the primary school (Woodfield) that Emma had yet to attend – rolled into action and the appeal also received backing from the Wigan Observer.
A whole stream of charitable events was hastily arranged: a gala ball, community fun days, a canoe marathon along the canal, sponsored car washes and wrist band sales to name but a handful.
The Neuroblastoma Alliance offered to supplement any shortfall so that Emma, parents Jill and Mark and sister Lily could get to the States on time. But the charity campaign was so successful that it hit its target with more than a month to spare!
Emma duly went to Philadelphia to undergo several months of sometimes unpleasant drug therapy. But doctors declared themselves highly satisfied with it, and since returning to Wigan Emma’s health has come along in leaps and bounds.
She is also catching up on quite a bit of missed education.
The Hoolins know they are not out of the woods yet and the treatment itself has left an unfortunate side-effect, but the first anniversary is nonetheless cause for celebration.
Jill said: “Considering what Emma has been through we could not be much happier. We were told that 12 months off-treatment without a relapse was an important milestone and so too is two years. The thinking is that neuroblastoma is so aggressive that if it were coming back it would come back quite quickly.
“Emma is going to need hearing aids because the chemotherapy damaged her higher frequency hearing. We had been warned about this and it seems a relatively small sacrifice to make given what could have happened.
“She is fine in herself although we still have worried days when you fear some common symptom might be something more serious. But all the tests that have been run on her so far have come back fine.
“Doctors check her heart and lungs and also look at her hands, although they won’t tell me what they are looking for with the latter.
“We feel very lucky. Emma is now at school full time, is eager to learn and has moved up a table in class.
“We still cannot thank enough all the people who raised the money to give her this second chance.”
Talking of which – the total amount raised in Emma’s name has now topped £310,000 – almost £100,000 more than the original target.
That cash is going both to the Neuroblastoma Alliance – which has promised to help out if Emma does suffer a relapse - and to the Leigh youngster Braiden Lee-Prescott who is battling the same condition and has just returned home mid-treatment from Philadelphia after suffering a relapse.