The Gift Of Life - Piper’s Story
Every year Barwon Health provides care the community often with life-changing outcomes. Back in 2009 the face of the Barwon Health Foundation Hospital Appeal was Piper Lee. Here was take a look back at Piper's Story.
Little Piper Lee has had a difficult journey in her short five and a half years. In December 2006, the young Belmont girl was diagnosed with an inoperable tumour in her neck that had her fighting for her life.
It was on a Sunday after being picked up from a wedding that Piper’s mum Amy first noticed something wasn’t right.
“My mum and Piper picked me up and when Piper turned to say hello to me I noticed that her right eye wasn’t focused,” she says.
After first visiting her GP, Piper was sent onto an eye specialist and then onto a paediatrician. A MRI scan was ordered and it was then that the tumour was discovered.
Given a 60%-90% chance of survival, the then three year old was sent to the Royal Children’s Hospital within a few days of diagnosis to commence her treatment.
Due to the position of the tumour, an operation wasn’t possible so doctors decided that the best course of action would be intensive radiation therapy and ongoing doses of chemotherapy to help shrink and contain it.
While some trips to Melbourne were required every few months, Piper’s more regular monthly treatments took place closer to home at the Andrew Love Cancer Centre.
All seemed to be on track until Valentine’s Day 2007 when the Lee family were faced with their biggest hurdle yet.
Not long after arriving home from her radiation therapy, Piper was administered her usual dose of morphine by her mum.
“It was less then three minutes after I’d given it to her that she started vomiting blood,” Amy says.
The radiation had caused the tumour’s surrounding tissue to weaken, leading to a break in one of her major blood vessels.
An ambulance arrived within a few minutes of Amy’s emergency call, but by the time the little girl arrived at the Geelong Hospital’s Emergency Department she had gone into cardiac arrest.
Piper’s father Steven, remembers the moment he arrived at the department to find his daughter fighting for her life.
“Walking into the cubicle and seeing the doctors working on her – that was scary,” he says.
As the medical team fought to keep Piper alive, her parents were faced with the harrowing decision of whether to risk the chance of a stroke by allowing doctors to operate.
“In the end, we really had no choice,” Amy explains.
“It was either let them operate and run the risk of Piper having a stroke compared to them not doing it and the very real risk of her dying.”
After struggling to get enough blood into their patient, the doctors worked quickly to clamp Piper’s bleeding artery and allow the other artery to pump blood back up to the brain.
With seven hours spent in the Emergency Department, Piper was finally stable enough to be transferred to the Royal Children’s Hospital where she spent three days heavily sedated in the Intensive Care Unit.
Amy and Steven still didn’t know the extent of the damage to their daughter until the next day when Piper began to show positive signs. Having laid Piper’s favourite blanket on her bed, their daughter showed she recognised it.
“She was still heavily sedated but we saw her fingers feeling the blanket and her hand hold it and we knew that was good,” Amy says.
“That was one of our really emotional days. Steven and I just broke down and cried.”
Following her recovery from the operation, Piper continued her cancer treatment, receiving her last dose in October 2007.
Today in 2020 Piper is sixteen years-old!
Piper is the face of the 2009 Geelong Hospital Appeal with the little girl and her family lending their story to help raise funds for the services of Barwon Health.
Following the launch of the inaugural Appeal in 2008 that saw over $900,000 raised, it is hoped that 2009 will be just as successful.
Barwon Health Foundation Executive Director Gavin Seidel says that Piper’s story is a perfect example of how one patient can come to rely on the many areas within the Geelong Hospital and beyond.
“During Piper’s illness, she used the Andrew Love Cancer Centre, the Emergency Department and the children’s ward at the hospital, “Mr Seidel says.
“It just goes to show the impact that these services can have on any one person’s life and how important it is they remain available for those in our community when they need it most.”
For the Lee family, lending their support to the 2009 Geelong Hospital Appeal is just a small way that they can show their appreciation.
“It’s simple. The hospital saved Piper’s life,” says Amy.
“They made an extremely difficult time for us much easier because they were with us to answer questions and offer help during her treatment. We just can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”
Today in 2020 Piper is sixteen years-old!