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Charlie Harris-Beard

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

  • Charlie


On Easter Sunday 2011, Joe and Fiona Harris-Beard were given the devastating news that their son Charlie, who was just 11 months old, had acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).

From the age of one month old, Charlie had purple bruises and lesions that would regularly appear and disappear. He also had recurrent colds that were impossible to shift. Fiona said: “He also had a very swollen tummy but we just thought it was his little pot belly. It was only later on when he was diagnosed that we were told it was a swollen spleen – a key indicator of leukaemia.”

Fiona and Joe repeatedly took Charlie to the out of hours service near to where they lived, as well as regular trips to their GP but his symptoms were always put down to infections, growing pains and other illnesses, and he was always sent away with antibiotics and other medications. A proper examination or investigation was never carried out.

Fiona said: “Enough was enough on Easter Sunday. He’d been awake all night in pain and he was inconsolable. Once again we took him to the out of hours primary care centre but again, we were told by a doctor that it was a viral infection. I put my foot down on this occasion and refused to go anywhere until we had a second opinion and at least have some tests done to find out what was wrong.”

Charlie was then referred to Worcestershire Royal Hospital’s paediatric ward where he underwent blood tests and other medical examinations. It was only then that doctors confirmed that Charlie had some sort of blood cancer.

The following morning after his diagnosis of suspected blood cancer, Charlie was transferred by ambulance to Birmingham Children’s Hospital (BCH) where he underwent a bone marrow aspirate for the confirmation of leukaemia and the type he had – it was acute myeloid leukaemia – an aggressive form that needed chemotherapy asap.

Fiona said: “I literally dropped to my knees and felt like someone had just ripped our hearts out. I never suspected blood cancer and I remember just keeping asking ‘is he going to die?’”

The day after his diagnosis was the start of whirlwind few months and Charlie underwent chemotherapy.  Unfortunately, the chemotherapy was not successful and so was given a bone marrow transplant (BMT) in October 2011, which again failed. “Charlie was also eligible for a trial drug which he started after the failed BMT, but not long after completing this trial, he passed away after deteriorating quickly in 2012.”

“My advice to parents would be if you are concerned about your child's health and aren’t satisfied with the answers you are getting, always ask for a second opinion. Please be aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease, as you never know if it will affect you. Demand a blood test if necessary and make sure doctors have done a proper examination to rule out blood cancer. If this had been done sooner with Charlie then the swollen spleen that he had would have been detected which would have indicated that something was seriously wrong.”

Charlie’s parents have set up the charity Cords4Life in Charlie’s memory – a charity dedicated to raising awareness of cord blood donation and increase the amount of cord donation centres available in the UK. Cord blood contains a high concentration of vital stem cells, which can treat various diseases from leukaemia to diabetes.