A young leukaemia patient who recently finished treatment has returned to Epsom Hospital to learn more about the science behind the care he received.
Nathan Dunne, accompanied by his parents, Oana and Matt, went on a “Harvey’s Gang” tour – a national scheme that helps children understand their treatment.
Nathan, who was diagnosed with leukaemia in June 2020, was very eager to learn more about the blood journey, and began his tour at the Blood Transfusion Unit. The 10-year-old was presented with a lab coat by Marlene Sheikhan, Senior Biomedical Scientist (Blood Transfusion), and also received a pair of gloves, a must-have item before handling blood samples. With his coat and gloves on, the job of a professional scientist trainee started.
Marlene guided Nathan through the different components that make up our blood and explored various types of blood samples. To test his knowledge, Nathan was given a small quiz about blood type, which he effortlessly aced, showcasing his impressive understanding.
The family was taken aback by the multitude of fridges and machines used to store and handle blood samples. Nathan’s curiosity sparked and he began asking questions while trying to operate the buttons on the machines under Marlene's supervision.
The visit then proceeded to the Blood Sciences Laboratory and Microscopy Unit, where Nhung Prakash, Senior Biomedical Scientist, gave a tour. Nathan had the opportunity to input data into the computer system and witnessed how blood results were generated. Nhung also provided training to Nathan on how to analyse blood films under the microscope.
Nathan was challenged to look for cells with different shapes and faces. Enthusiastically peering through the microscope, he thoroughly enjoyed this part of the visit, especially when he spotted cells that resembled smiley faces. At the end of the tour, he eagerly posed for a photo with his working partner, the microscope.
Nathan was very proud of his trainee role. His request to wear the lab coat back to school after the visit showed Oana and Matt a clear picture of how their son might look like as a future scientist.
Before completing his treatment in August 2023, Nathan had to undergo regular blood transfusions and Vincristine – a special type of chemotherapy – infusions at Epsom Hospital. According to Oana, Nathan was a smart patient who understood his condition - knowing that something was wrong with his blood.
"The tour was incredible, with knowledgeable staff explaining every aspect of the blood journey and answering all of our questions. We now have a better understanding of what goes on inside the lab," said Oana.
The tour was part of an initiative known as Harvey’s Gang, which was set up by Malcolm Robinson, Chief Biomedical Scientist (Blood Transfusion) for Worthing Hospital, in memory of Harvey Baldwin. Harvey underwent treatment for leukaemia and was keen to know what happened to his blood samples after they were taken. The tours help children understand their treatment, helping to overcome their fears.
Epsom Hospital joined Harvey's Gang in 2019 but had to pause the programme due to the pandemic. Nathan was the first visitor since it was relaunched.
Alana Molyneux, Deputy Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist, who has supported Nathan since his diagnosis, said: "It's a true pleasure to guide Nathan's family. In fact, many of our oncology patients undergo weekly blood tests and require regular transfusions during their treatment, so it is great to get them into the lab and show them where their samples go and what happens to them to get the results.”