Real Life

My son was black and blue

Little Kole Satherley is one tough cookie. Since he was diagnosed with a blood disorder just before Christmas, the brave six-year-old has had to endure dozens of painful medical procedures and several hospital stays, as well as being isolated from his friends and banned from playing his favourite game, soccer.

He’s handled everything with great stoicism and when he was asked if he minded having his head shaved, he also took that in his stride. There was a good reason for the radical haircut. Kole is the face of this year’s Leukaemia & Blood Foundation’s Shave for a Cure campaign.

Kole, whose Palmerston North family has been supported by the foundation since he was diagnosed with aplastic anaemia, didn’t lose his hair during the treatment he’s had. But he was in hospital with other children who have lost theirs, and understands that it’s often part of treatment for kids with “sick blood”.

Kole’s mum Cara says, “We talked about being in the ad and having his head shaved and he was fine about it.

We thought it would be nice to do the ad to give something back – hopefully it will help other parents.”

Cara (41) first wondered if there was something wrong with her usually fit and healthy son when he came out in lots of bruises. “But we just put it down to him being a typical rough-and-tumble kid.”

Then one weekend in December, she got a phone call from her mother, who was looking after Kole and his older brother Jacob (12) while Cara and her husband Shane were away at a wedding.

“oum said she thought we should come home – Kole was covered in bruises. They were all over his whole body.

He couldn’t remember how he got them and they weren’t sore to touch, but I knew something wasn’t right.”

Cara’s GP ordered blood tests, which showed Kole had a very low platelet count. Cara feared her son might have the blood-clotting disorder haemophilia, which affects some of her extended family members.

But after he was put through a battery of tests at Auckland’s Starship Hospital, doctors told her he had a rare condition called aplastic anaemia. The disease causes bone marrow to stop making enough new blood cells, which can lead to a variety of problems, including fatigue, an inability to fight infections, blood that won’t clot and even heart failure. If severe aplastic anaemia is not treated quickly, it can be fatal.

A shocked Cara says she couldn’t believe Kole was suddenly so unwell. “To look at him, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong.”

His treatment has involved a course of a drug called ATG, which stripped out his bone marrow and left him with high temperatures and the shakes. It also means he has to have weekly blood transfusions, and he currently has no immune system, so getting sick could be life-threatening.

“He’s not allowed to go to school because of the high chance of picking up bugs.”

It’s hoped Kole’s bone marrow will respond to the medication, but it will be months before they know if the treatment has worked. If it hasn’t, he will need more medication and possibly a bone marrow transplant.

Siblings are often the best match for bone marrow, but unfortunately Jacob is not a match for Kole.

Kole’s illness has taken a toll on the whole family, including Jacob, who’s become used to taking a back seat to his little brother. “Luckily Jacob is a kind, loving, wonderful brother,” says Cara.

It’s also been tough for Shane (44), who’s had to deal with the pressure of running their car yard business while worrying about Kole.

“He’s had a lot of anxiety,” says Cara, whose bosses at a freight company provided her with a laptop so she could work from home. “I’ve had my moments too when it’s all been really overwhelming. It does put your marriage under strain, but luckily we’ve got through that.”

She says support from the Leukaemia & Blood Foundation has helped, and seeing how Kole copes lifts their spirits.

“He’s a little fighter,” she says proudly. “Even when he has been really sick, there’s no feeling sorry for himself. He just gets on with it.”

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