Bubble Unit offers hope for young Whitley Bay leukaemia sufferer Austin

The parents of a child needing a bone marrow transplant are backing The Journal's Bubble Foundation campaign

Austin Sweeney, 4, who needs a bone marrow transplant
Austin Sweeney, 4, who needs a bone marrow transplant

A bone marrow transplant is brave Austin Sweeney’s main chance of survival.

As a toddler the youngster was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells.

Following more than a year of intensive treatment, Austin’s condition relapsed and he is now set to have a bone marrow transplant at Newcastle’s world-renowned Bubble Unit.

But as he goes into the unit at the Great North Children’s Hospital today, parents Louise Gibson and Scott Sweeney know there is only a 50% chance of it working.

Teacher Louise, 40, of Whitley Bay, said: “I do feel apprehensive as this is the start of yet another journey and we do not know how it will end.

“I’ve had a long time to prepare for Austin’s transplant and I’m ready for it. It is a chapter in our lives that we have to get through.”

Austin, who will have his fifth birthday later this month, has been in and out of hospital thorughout his life.

Austin Sweeney, 4, with his mum Louise, and dad Scott, from Whitley Bay
Austin Sweeney, 4, with his mum Louise, and dad Scott, from Whitley Bay

He was just two-and-a-half when his parents were given the devastating news that their only son had cancer. Within a week things went from bad to even worse as the youngster was struck down with a serious bacterial infection and medics feared he may only have a week to live.

Fortunately, life-saving treatment worked, but Austin was left unable to walk for six months.

“It is just surreal looking back at what happened and I don’t know how we got through it,” said Louise.

After months in hospital Austin was finally able to go home and was enjoying life when his condition relapsed.

It is expected that in just over a week he will receive a bone marrow transplant, donated by a 24-year-old European man.

Louise and Scott, 34, also a teacher, had hoped that when their daughter, Lottie, one, was born the stem cells taken from the placenta could be used for Austin, but tests showed that they were not compatible.

Louise said: “It was a shock when Austin’s condition relapsed and you just think it’s so unfair. But Austin copes with it all amazingly well. He knows what is going to happen and is unbelievably resilient and determined.

“We don’t know what the outcome of the transplant will be but we have to remain positive.”

Louise and Scott are now backing The Journal’s campaign to safeguard a charity that supports the Bubble Unit.

For more than 20 years, the Bubble Foundation has worked tirelessly to help children with immune deficiency problems. However, funds to the charity have sadly dwindled and the Foundation is now at risk of closure.

If the charity was to cease then it would mean research into immune system problems may stop and the region could potentially lose leading experts in this field.

“I am so relieved that the Bubble Unit is on our doorstep and gives the best treatment in the world,” said Louise. “People need to know more about the life-saving treatment Newcastle offers and help to support the Bubble Foundation.”


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