Armagh mum Carolyn Smyth is facing a life and death struggle to help save her little boy as he battles acute myeloid leukaemia.

By Mandi Millar

When sports-mad Theo Smyth (11) complained about getting up in the morning his mum wondered if he was just turning into a typical teenager.

Tragically, she couldn’t have been further from the truth and now Carolyn and Martin Smyth are facing a life and death struggle as the ‘baby’ of the family, Theo, battles acute myeloid leukaemia.

“You just don’t realise how your life can change in a split second but Theo is being incredibly brave and we have to stay brave for him,” says mum Caroline, a retail manager and mum of four.

“Theo’s the one doing the hard work but it’s hard for us to watch.

“We try to be upbeat for him and put on a good face. We go in every day and do it for him, but he has crap days too,” continues Caroline who first noticed changes in her boy in May.

“We noticed he couldn’t get up in the morning and when he did it was a fight to get him to eat his breakfast, then to get him dressed.

“When he did go upstairs to dress he’d be ages and I’d find him and back sleeping in bed. There were also a few behavioural issues and that was very strange.”

Like any worried parent Caroline took Theo to the doctor – in fact she took him five times.

“First it was put down to covid, then a suspected virus,” she recalls.

And when, following his P7 school trip, Theo developed shortness of breath and chest pain, it was put down to asthma and inhalers prescribed.

Things came to a head though on a family trip to Dublin in July when Theo’s temperature spiked repeatedly.

Back home, and seriously worried about their son, Theo’s bloods were finally checked. But even as they were trying to process all that, Martin got a call to say his mum was now seriously ill too.

By the following day she’d deteriorated and the couple rushed to be with her. But as they sat by her bedside Caroline took a call from Craigavon Hospital – doctors wanted to see Theo right away. The results of his blood tests were through – alarming.

That was the bleakest of days, for as Caroline dashed with Theo to the hospital Martin’s mum slipped away.

“It was a lot to deal with. I don’t know how you do, but you just have to get on with it,” says Caroline.

“Craigavon suspected acute myeloid leukaemia so we were transferred to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast and it’s there they broke the news to me that Theo did indeed have cancer – the same day Martin buried his mother.

“But when everything comes at you at once you just have to take a day at a time and Theo keeps us going.

“He is incredible and understands everything for the doctors and nurses agreed with us that it was best to be truthful for he knew there was something serious wrong.

“The consultant came with us and helped break it to him. But they told him they’re going for a cure and we keep that at the forefront all the time. He’s been so, so brave. I don’t know how he’s done it,” says Caroline.

And it’s not hard to see why she thinks Theo is indeed a little hero for the 11-year-old is facing multiple rounds of chemo in the next six months, with each one requiring bone marrow testing and possible lumbar punctures.

“That would be a good outcome but we’re playing a waiting game though for the tests still haven’t shown if he’ll need a bone narrow transplant and it’s too early to know if the chemo is working.

“It’s just been one blood and platelet transfusion after another. He has a feeding tube fitted now, and he’s had to battle infections too,” continues Caroline who’s taken a leave of absence from her job to be with Theo 24/7, as visiting is so restricted because of the risk of infection.

“The hospital are fantastic and we have a bed-chair we can sleep in though because of an old work injury Martin – who’s retired from the Fire Service – can’t use it so I stay most nights though his older brother Jonathan (28) has done a couple too.”

Indeed Theo’s sister Jasmin (15) hasn’t seen her little brother face to face since the day he came into hospital but she along with Jonathon and Adam (30) keep the 11-year-old’s spirits up with video chats about his favourite things – sport and motorbikes.

And not to be outdone former Ulster and Irish Rugby captain Rory Best, an ambassador for the Cancer Fund for Children charity, has been in touch too with a video message joking that it was a pity Theo plays for Armagh and not his home side of Banbridge!

“Those are the things that keep us going, as well as all the messages and calls from family and friends who’ve organised a fundraiser for Theo to help cover the extra costs the family is facing now,” says Caroline who’s living for day she sees her ‘old’ Theo emerge again.

“He is a very outgoing child, real sporty wee boy but since this has hit him he’s understandably been very quiet. It’s incredibly hard for him for I suppose his wee head’s doing overtime.

“But we’ve been overwhelmed with people’s generosity and kindness. At this stage though, we’re just taking everything a day at a time. It’s all we can do. Yes, we’ve had a lot thrown at us but for now Theo is our priority.”

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