Chasing his older brother Mitchell and playing around in the swimming pool are two things that bring joy to five-year-old Cooper Anderton. However, his body will become weak and tired well before other kids his age.
Mum Donna says that he has always been slower than other children. When Cooper was three he desperately wanted to learn to ride his bike, but couldn’t push the pedals. This is when she knew that her son was not just lazy, and that there was something wrong.
Following a blood test it was confirmed that Cooper had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Children usually lose the ability to walk at the age of 12, and eventually their breathing muscles are affected. Ms Anderton and husband Matthew have found comfort in RCH’s neuromuscular clinic, which has about 450 children on its books, and 250 with DMD.
After running and activity, Cooper’s muscles do not repair and grow stronger as they usually should. “In DMD, that normal pathway of muscle regeneration is affected, and the loss and tear of muscles instead causes connective tissue to be replaced that seizes instead of contracting in the same way,” says clinic Associate Professor Monique Ryan.
Cooper will soon be participating in two studies through the clinic. The first will investigate the use of natural supplements in reducing the decline of bone density and muscle strength. Associate Prof Ryan will run the second one, which will be a long-term study focusing on whether other underlying medical problems are caused by a particular deletion in the child’s genetic code.
The clinic hopes to follow in the footsteps of childhood leukaemia in combining results to lead to better treatments. To achieve this, they hope to have every child at the clinic involved in a clinical trial.
“When I started, boys lived until they were about 20-25 years. Now they live to 30-35 years,” says Associate Prof Ryan.
Cooper has been receiving steroids to assist in increasing lost muscle mass, allowing him to be able to run and jump. Ms Anderton says, “He is now able to run to a degree in his own way. He can jump. To see his own two feet come off the ground an inch – it’s on Facebook, it was on YouTube – I told everybody.”
Ms Anderton has further said that the neuromuscular clinic’s compassion, prompt phone calls and emails are typical of the RCH’s neurology clinic. “As much as it’s devastating to be told that all your hopes and dreams for your boy are not going to be what you envisaged, you know they’re there for you…it feels like they’re a family team supporting you.”