Family will celebrate Christmas after daughter's leukaemia treatment
A CO Down family who are being forced to spend Christmas apart due to their young daughter's leukaemia treatment have vowed to "keep the tree up" and celebrate together when she returns home from hospital in England in the new year.
Francesca Campbell, (9), who was diagnosed with leukaemia in August, received a bone marrow transplant in Bristol from her brother Ben (11) earlier this month.
Gavin Campbell has told how his family is overwhelmed by the support they have received and said he wanted to express "heartfelt gratitude and eternal thanks" to everyone who helped support them through the diagnosis,
Gavin and his wife Michaela have both had to take leave from their jobs and have been travelling to and from England on separate rotas to ensure one of them is always with Francesca while the other is home for Ben and their third child, five-year-old Christopher.
A fundraising campaign for the family, started on the JustGiving website by other parents in Carryduff, has so far raised more than £13,500.
While Francesca is being kept in isolation in hospital in Bristol, Ben has now returned to school and is back at home in Carryduff.
Mr Campbell said that the family's "world fell apart" when Francesca was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, having initially visited her dentist amidst concerns over swelling on her gums.
After moving into the children's haematology unit in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Francesca began chemotherapy in preparation for the bone marrow transplant.
Mr Campbell said: "She had to have 42 doses of chemotherapy, that is a crazy amount for a nine-year-old girl.
"I remember Francesca actually asked me, 'Daddy, am I going to die?' That makes me emotional even now.
"She is very ill at present, following the operation, because the bone marrow is kicking in. It is still in its infancy and could take weeks to take hold.
He added: "People batter the NHS but the care she has received is incredible."
Francesca, a pupil at St Joseph's Primary School in Carryduff, has been in isolation for around four weeks and will continue to be until her discharge date of New Year's Eve.
From there, the family are set to move to CLIC House, a home run by charity CLIC Sargent close to the hospital in Bristol where the transplant took place.
Francesca will continue to be assessed by doctors there for around a further two months before she is allowed back home.
Her brother Ben, who started Year 8 in Our Lady and St Patrick's College Knock, in east Belfast, a week after the diagnosis, had no hesitation about being a donor.
Mr Campbell said: "Ben was in bits at the thought that his sister could die. There was no fear from Ben. It was just a case of 'I have to save my sister.'
"He has a sore back but he was in school again two weeks ago.
"I am crazily proud of the two of them. They don't realise the magnitude of it, but they will when they are older."
Along with his wife Michaela, they will rotate between their children, spending Christmas Day apart as a result.
Mr Campbell said: "My wife is going to be here with the two boys over Christmas and I will be in England with Francesca.
"One of us has to be here in Carryduff, to keep things as normal as possible. Our five-year-old is quite oblivious to what is going on.
"We are having Christmas when we come home. Our Christmas tree is staying up until then."
He added: "Santa is going to come to Bristol but we'll do family presents when Francesca gets home."
Mr Campbell said he and his wife have been overwhelmed by the support received since the diagnosis, particularly from within the Carryduff area.
He said the parish, parents and the two schools attended by Ben and Francesca have been "brilliant" and praised the assistance of several sports clubs and charities including Angel Wishes, Hope 03, Saint Vincent De Paul and the Cancer Fund for Children.
"At the start people asked about how they could help us. They managed to talk us into making it public. So many people, straight away, wanted to help us.
"It is quite embarrassing in some ways. We keep ourselves to ourselves, are a quiet family and like to blend into the background.
"I will contact them all over the next year. I can't put it into words. We want to express our heartfelt gratitude and eternal thanks."
He added: "We are a very long way from the finish line and we know that there are many other families going through this as well."
Donations to the appeal can be made via the Just Giving page, which will be running until December 30, at https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/Francesca-Campbell