WATCH: Stemcell breakthough for PE girl

First patient goes home in remission

Doctors and nurses at the paediatric oncology unit at the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital formed a guard of honour yesterday to celebrate the little girl who received the first successful stemcell transplant on a child in the province.

Tashnay Memphies, 6, clutching balloons, ran from nurse to nurse giving them hugs and presented her doctors, Dr Johani Vermeulen and Dr Elmarie Mathews-Walton, with handmade cards covered in hearts.

To them she is their sunshine child, the child who – despite having been confined to a tiny isolation room for a month – could be heard singing on the other side of the ward.

Tashnay, of Schauderville, was diagnosed with leukaemia that was not responding well to chemotherapy. When doctors discovered that her brother, Jermaine, 10, was a perfect match for her, they decided they would attempt the first stemcell transplant on a child in the Eastern Cape.

Previously, children were sent to Cape Town for the procedure.

With Tashnay having received enormous community support, donations and a lot of prayer, Vermeulen said she was delighted to announce that after a month in isolation Tashnay could yesterday walk out of the hospital in remission.

Tashnay’s mom, Natasha, said this was one of the toughest challenges that their family had faced.

“Thank you to Jermaine for being brave and believing he could help his sister,” she said.

“Tashnay, you are a blessing to us. You always had a smile.”

Vermeulen said performing a stemcell transplant was labour-intensive and time-consuming.

“We were determined to try doing it at the unit because we have lost children before while waiting for a bed in a Cape Town,” she said.

“It took a lot of planning, hard work and prayer but one month later here she is – ready to go home.”

Vermeulen thanked her colleague, Dr Mathews-Walton, the nursing staff and dieticians who looked after Tashnay, saying that she had weighed 2kg more when she came out of isolation than when she went in.

“She never even had a fever – a real tribute to them,” she said.

“I share a dream with the head of the department of paediatrics, Dr Lungile Pepeta, that one day we will be able to offer all specialist services to the children of the Eastern Cape right here at home,” she said.

Vermeulen thanked the Memphies family for trusting them with their daughter’s care.

“I have never met a child with such a sunny disposition. She never felt sorry for herself. It was the highlight of my day checking into her room twice a day.”

Pepeta said he believed this was the beginning of something great in the Eastern Cape. “I want to thank the community of the Eastern Cape for making this a reality.”

Mathews-Walton said they were also very thankful to their colleagues in the radiology department at Livingstone Hospital, where Tashnay had to be treated before the transplant.

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