Baby boy with rare immune condition has life saved by Newcastle's Bubble Unit

A baby born with a rare immune deficiency problem is recovering well thanks to the help of North East specialists

Conor Kelly, with his mum Elaine Kelly in the Bubble Unit at the RVI
Conor Kelly, with his mum Elaine Kelly in the Bubble Unit at the RVI

Bubble baby Conor Kelly was desperately wanted as his parents had longed to have a child to make their family complete.

For years, his parents Seamus and Elaine had tried for a baby and spent around £30,000 on fertility treatment before being given the news they were finally expecting their first child.

But within months of Conor being born, the couple were left heartbroken when their tot was diagnosed with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Disorder (SCID) and his life was at serious risk unless he received a stem cell transplant from his father.

Now, just eight weeks post-transplant, the seven-and-a-half-month-old is doing well as he recovers in a sterile “bubble” at the Great North Children’s Hospital, based at Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Elaine, 37, an innovation coordinator, said: “You never imagine that a baby you have wanted for so long could be seriously ill.”

Conor has been in Newcastle’s Bubble Unit for much of his short life, with his parents staying with him throughout his treatment.

He was born a week early in Dungarvan, County Waterford, Ireland, on Christmas Day, weighing 7lb 11oz. Initially everything was going well.

Cameron Howe, seven meets Paddington Bear at the Great North Childrens Hospital at the RVI. Paddington is supporting Action Medical Research

Elaine said: “From day one Conor looked a healthy, normal baby and the day after he was born he was given his BCG vaccination.

“Yet when he was three-months-old three red spots appeared on his back and I was concerned because they never went away, but doctors didn’t think it was anything serious at that time.

“It wasn’t until Seamus and I decided to visit Dublin to take Conor to the zoo that we knew something was wrong. Through the night Conor would wake up screaming, then fall asleep, and wake up again in pain, which was not like him.”

Seamus, 44, a senior engineer, and Elaine took Conor to hospital where subsequent blood tests and examinations revealed he had SCID.

This meant the youngster’s main defence system had not formed properly and he did not have any immune system to fight off even the smallest virus or infection. As a result he reacted badly to the BCG vaccine.

Conor was quickly referred to specialists at the North East unit and it was decided his best chance of survival was a stem cell transplant - with his father being the perfect match.

The youngster has spent weeks in isolation as his immune system has started to rebuild following the life-saving procedure.

Elaine said: “He has been in hospital for months and the team at the Bubble Unit have been fantastic. The Bubble Foundation is incredible for what it does for children and their family, people in the region should feel very proud of the charity.”

In October, the Journal launched its Bubble Foundation campaign to raise vital funds after it was at serious risk of closure due to a sharp reduction in donations. Now the Foundation is out of the danger zone as a staggering £188,082 has been raised since then. However, more money is still desperately needed to ensure the long-term future of the charity.

The Bubble Foundation provides funds for medical equipment, toys and educational aids on the hospital unit, as well as looking out for the welfare of the babies, children and their families. More importantly, the Foundation also helps to fund pioneering research into immune system disorders.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer