Heidi's Story

Heidi Howson was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia after her mum noticed purple spots on her back and she developed rashes on her neck.

After being rushed to A&E, a bone marrow test confirmed the diagnosis for Heidi. 

Just two weeks before her sixth birthday Heidi’s mum, Lucy, noticed purple spots on her back whilst enjoying a day out with friends at Gulliver’s Valley on a sunny Monday during the summer school holidays. That evening, Lucy and Ryan, Heidi’s dad, made the decision to visit A&E at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.

With advice to get further tests, Heidi and her family returned home to Handsworth, Sheffield, where Heidi continued to appear her usual healthy and cheerful self despite the purple spots on her back.

However, over the next few days, rashes started to appear on Heidi’s neck. As a midwife, Lucy knew there was something wrong so persevered with her worry over Heidi’s purple spots, which was confirmed when her friend’s mum, a nurse, advised urgent care.

Heidi was admitted to Sheffield Children’s Hospital on the Saturday, after an Emergency Department consultant there immediately and expertly recognised her symptoms. As soon as the nurse put the canula in Heidi’s arm, her parents knew she wouldn’t be going home that evening.

By Monday, Heidi’s bone marrow test confirmed a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Just 24 hours after her diagnosis and eight days after spotting the first signs, Heidi began intensive chemotherapy to save her life.

With treatment quickly taking its toll, Heidi and her family went through the worst eight weeks of their lives as she became very ill, spending her sixth birthday on the sofa surrounded by support from friends and family.

Lucy took six months off work to care for Heidi, with Ryan only being able to take the first few weeks of Heidi’s treatment off, working full time as a farmer.

Heidi has been through much more than the average six-year-old; taking each incredibly tough day in her stride. Being treated with chemotherapy in blocks, Heidi has regular visits to theatre. Heidi has also suffered from physical and emotional changes, including hair loss, lethargy, mobility issues, speech problems and weight loss.

Under the care of the incredible staff at Sheffield Children’s, Heidi is supported by Ward 6 (the ward for children and teenagers with cancer and blood disorders), the ear, nose and throat (ENT) team, speech and language therapists, dieticians, physiotherapists and dentists.

Heidi has been incredibly resilient and brave, now embracing her hair loss with pride amongst a community of people she’s met on Ward 6 at Sheffield Children’s as she’s not the only little girl with no hair anymore.

Heidi’s latest tests show that the treatment is thankfully working but doesn’t stop there. As Heidi is classed as ‘intermediate-high risk’ due to her genetics, her treatment will continue for two years, with constant monitoring of her health during and after.

Lucy said: “Heidi’s a strong little girl and won’t give up even in the hardest times when she’s feeling poorly from treatment – she knows she has to be poorly to get better. She talks about her leukaemia in such a practical way and is always wanting to learn about her own care and treatment.

“Heidi loves being on Ward 6; the staff and playroom make the experience so much better especially in difficult times. Sheffield Children’s is a brilliant community of healthcare professionals and families. Without the support of wonderful families in similar situations, we wouldn’t know how to cope. We meet people from all walks of life in similar positions to us, all with a collective understanding of trying to navigate this horrible journey.

“We know Heidi will get better and even though she goes through so much, her prognosis is positive. We know the risk of relapse is always going to be there, but we’re thankful for her journey so far. You can’t put a value on a child’s life, and we’ll never stop fundraising as a thank you to everyone who’s supported us so far!”

How your money helps

£10 could create more places to play in the Emergency Department.

£30 could help expand the waiting room to four times its current size.

£50 could create two dedicated triage areas so our nurses have a space with everything they need.

£75 could help build more treatment, consultancy and examination rooms.

Everything we fund is over and above the NHS provision. Our hospital is testament to the dedication of staff, the generosity of our donors and the courage of our children. We’ll never stop striving to make it better.