TEN-month-old Reece Barends is fighting for his life after being diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer last month.
Little Reece has already had an operation to remove part of a tumour from his spine, which had paralysed him from the waist down, and is facing months of chemotherapy.
His parents, Ashleigh, 32, and Stuart, 28, moved to Cape Town from Swindon two years ago, and are now facing terrifying medical bills after having to cut down their working hours to look after him.
Now Ashleigh’s former colleagues are trying to do what they can to help the family through, and are fundraising to help them pay their bills.
Reece was diagnosed on 13 December, and Ashleigh said his strength has kept them going.
“It is devastating to see what he is going through, but we are keeping our heads above water,” she said.
“The tumour had been growing for a number of months, and was pushing up against his spine.
“They had to put him through a four hour operation to remove the smaller part which had paralysed him. He recovered from that and has a bit of movement now, but he is still unable to stand or crawl.
“The bulk of the tumour is massive, and is now pushing up against his aorta and lungs. It is too extensive to remove, so he has had to begin a six month course of chemotherapy.
“It is extremely difficult to see go from being such a strong, independent boy to not eating or moving.
“The chemo is more frightening than the cancer at the moment, because we are putting poison into his body.”
While Ashleigh has medical insurance, she is still facing a bill of around £150,000 to try to save her son’s life.
“In South Africa we have not got the great NHS system,” she said. “We have medical insurance, but that only covers a certain amount of bills.
“We have already recieved a 10,000 rand bill for what the insurance has not covered.
“We can’t work full time, and I have only been able to work five days in the last month because I need to look after Reece. The Tygerberg hospital is 50km away, and we have to make trips there about twice a week.
“We can assume we are looking at additional medical costs of around 150,000 rand. At the moment we are surviving on donations anyway. From the time we stopped working we have been living hand to mouth.
“The money Stuart gets from work goes on food and keeping us in a home, and the bills have been covered by donations, but they are drying up.
“Neuroblastoma in South Africa is the third biggest child killer, and more deaths are caused by that than HIV aids and tuberculosis combined. It is a cancer of the nervous system, and affects your flight or flight responses.
“Reece has had people he doesn’t know coming to poke and to prod him, but his strength has inspired us. He does everything with a smile on his face. He is such a happy and strong little boy, so we have to be strong for him.”
Briony Curtis, 29, is entering the Wiltshire Scramble in March with 10 others to raise funds for her friends.
“As soon as I saw the news it hit me hard, because I have children about Reece’s age,” she said.
“Myself and a close friend who used to work at Toni & Guy got together and said we needed to do something for them. We started looking at ways to help and we came across the Wiltshire 10k Scramble.
“We have been dropped off lots of sponsorship forms and last weekend we raised £350, whch is a start.
“We should be so grateful for the NHS, because nobody here has to face the huge burdens they are going through. They do not need that added stress, particularly now.
“We have got little donation boxes all around Shrivenham, and we just want to do whatever we can.”
To follow their progress and to donate visit facebook page Running for Reece.