Beginning her new cancer treatment earlier this week, 11-year-old Raya joined a small group of Australian children who have received CAR-T therapy – a revolutionary cancer treatment that sees a patient’s immune cells removed, reprogrammed in a lab and then placed back into the patient to fight against their cancer.
Introduced in 2019, the RCH is the only paediatric health service in Australia to offer CAR-T therapy. Prior to this, patients who required the treatment needed to travel overseas.
After suffering from uncontrollable movements on the right-side of her body, 11-year-old Raya arrived at the RCH Emergency Department (ED) in September last year with her mum, Hanaa and dad, Nader by her side.
Anxiously awaiting answers, Raya was first carefully monitored by a team of ED doctors, who explored every possible cause of her uncontrolled movements. Later met by a team of Haematologists, she underwent various tests, including a Bone Marrow Aspirate, which eventually led to a leukaemia diagnosis.
While leukaemia may seem like a common diagnosis, Raya’s condition included an abnormal change that meant her experience was far more complex. Seeking answers about treatment after multiple rounds of chemotherapy, Raya’s treating team recommended two options, a bone marrow transplant, or CAR-T therapy. Weighing up their choices and minimising Raya’s risk of side effects, Hanaa and Nader made the decision for their daughter to receive CAR-T.
Beginning the process of having her cells placed back into her body last week, Raya and her parents are currently in semi-isolation within the hospital’s dedicated oncology ward – Kookaburra.
Spending her days tuning into online-learning, learning to play the ukulele and building LEGO, Raya and her family are hopeful that she can soon return home to spend time with her younger brother who she has missed during her stay in hospital.
While she still has a battle ahead of her, Raya’s father Nader is grateful that his daughter is able to receive the treatment so close to home.
“This is what is going to hopefully give my daughter her health back.”
Images: Herald Sun/David Caird