Charlie Shirran is now three and doing much better. Picture Glenn Hampson
Charlie Shirran is now three and doing much better. Picture Glenn Hampson

Brave boy’s incredible story of survival

BEHIND the cheeky grin of Charlie Shirran is a story of immense courage and strength, the likes of which most adults will never have to confront.

You wouldn't know the three-year-old had battled for his life as he sits with his mother Jo and Dr Christa Bell making gold ribbons for International Childhood Cancer Day today in the emergency department administrative office of the Gold Coast University Hospital (GCUH).

Charlie Shirran 3, playing doctor with his father Dr Mark Shirran, who works in the Emergency Department at the Gold Coast Uni Hospital, his mother Jo Shirran and one of Marks work colleagues, Dr Christa Bell, who diagnosed Charlie with cancer. Picture Glenn Hampson
Charlie Shirran 3, playing doctor with his father Dr Mark Shirran, who works in the Emergency Department at the Gold Coast Uni Hospital, his mother Jo Shirran and one of Marks work colleagues, Dr Christa Bell, who diagnosed Charlie with cancer. Picture Glenn Hampson

It seems a lifetime away from when Charlie's mum found a lump on the side of his head when he was eight months old, and showed her husband Dr Mark Shirran, an Emergency Department consultant at the GCUH. That lump had been the first sign of neuroblastoma.

"He was a happy and healthy baby with no issues at all, meeting all of his milestones, then at eight months he woke up from a nap and I noticed a bump on the side of his head," Mrs Shirran said.

Dr Christa Bell, a paediatric emergency staff specialist, is not only a close family friend, but had the hard task of breaking the news to the Shirrans - something she still gets emotional about.

"I remember receiving a text from Mark, he had pre-empted that he was worried (about the lump) … when they came up (to the hospital) we decided the most appropriate thing was for Charlie to have an MRI.

"I remember putting in what would have been his first IV (intravenous line), and thinking this has to be a good one because this little man was heading on a journey of many IVs.

"I get emotional still talking about it, I remember they went off for the scan and going into the radiologist and looking at the scans and saying 'oh God, I don't know what that is, but it's not good'.

"I remember ringing Mark and Jo and asking them to come in and see us in the radiology room … it was awful, Mark is a colleague, and I think from that moment we were connected.

"We said you can't do it on your own. The department rallied around. I was so passionate about it."

Ms Shirran said it was the toughest 18 months of their lives.

"There began 18 months worth of the most horrendous, toxic, cruel treatment you could ever imagine,'' she said.

"He had chemo, he had surgery, radiation, stem cell transplants, immunotherapy which caused the most horrendous pain. Watching your kid go through all of that was emotionally draining.

"You want to take all that away from him, but you can't."

Dr Shirran said it was hard to not think about or look at all the statistics in the battle Charlie had ahead.

"It was very, very hard. Nothing can prepare you for it. Being a doctor comes with its advantages, but also its disadvantages.

"It was hard not to dwell on the statistics, very scary statistics, of the risk of death.

"Using my knowledge and training and experience, I was able to research and get in contact with neuroblastoma specialists outside of Australia and really research what was the best treatment available."

The family frantically raised about $250,000 to get Charlie to New York for a revolutionary vaccine to try to prevent a relapse. He received seven injections over 12 months.

"He's still consistently going through reassessment scans, because neuroblastoma is a cancer that the relapse rate is so high, that's why Mark was researching this vaccine in New York," Ms Shirran said.

"They've discovered a way of hopefully preventing that relapse, but it's only available in New York, so we had to raise about $250,000 to get that."

Ms Shirran said Charlie was going well now and was a happy young boy.

"We are extremely lucky, he is a very boisterous, happy, three-year-old. To look at him you wouldn't know he'd been through all that.

"I'm grateful when he's annoying, when he's absolutely doing my head in like a normal three-year-old, because two years ago I didn't know whether that would happen."



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