A BRAVE little girl has a very special reason to celebrate her first ever day at school.
For Misha Butler has had to put up with a lot more than most five-year-olds after being born without an immune system.
The girl who became Bredenbury Primary School’s newest pupil on Monday spent the first years of her life in a specialised hospital isolation unit.
She was given a bone marrow transplant when she was just eight weeks old, but this did not prevent a series of further complications and another gruelling transplant a year later.
Misha remained in hospital and was only allowed to go home to Upper Sapey, near Bromyard, after her second birthday.
Even then, Misha was still in and out of hospital as doctors constantly monitored her progress.
But this week, the youngster managed what her parents, Tracey and Terry, feared she might never achieve – and went to school.
Her father, Terry, said: “It is a big occasion for all of us. Misha has been looking forward to it and we, as parents, are incredibly pleased and proud that our little girl has come so far.
“Misha still has many problems. She cannot walk, is blind in her left eye and has no hair or eyebrows.
“It will be an ongoing thing for the rest of her life with lots more hospital visits to come, but her immune system is now up to about 90% and she is going to school! What she is doing today really is incredible.”
Misha was treated at the Children’s Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in Newcastle-upon-Tyne – one of only two units in the UK that can give babies like Misha the meticulous medical and nursing care they need.
The treatment was paid for by the NHS, but a charity group called the Bubble Foundation was formed to raise money for medical research and staff training to help children born without immune systems.
Funds raised also pay for more simple things like accommodation to house mothers and fathers visiting their sick children.
Terry, aged 31, and his brother, Harry, 33, are now planning to trek across Peru to raise money for the Bubble charity.
“The hospital does not get the attention it deserves because it is not as well known as Great Ormond Street,” said Terry. “But it is an amazing place and if it was not for that hospital, there is absolutely no way Misha would be with us today.”
During pregnancy, doctors told Terry and Tracey there was a one in four chance that Misha could be born with a rare immune deficiency similar to the type that took the life of their first son, Nicholas, when he was just three-years-old.
“We were not quite sure what to do when we were told that, but we could not go through with an abortion and we are so, so pleased with our decision now,” Terry said.
Within a few weeks of Misha’s birth, a bone marrow donor was found in America. It was such a close match that doctors said it was like a sibling.
But even this was not enough to stop a stressful and draining two-year period where Misha was kept in a high-tech sterile space known as a bubble.
Every time Terry and Tracey wanted to get close to Misha, they had to scrub for three minutes and wear a special gown because even the common cold passed on by a mother’s kiss could have been fatal.
However, slowly and surely Misha grew in strength and was allowed to go to a half-way-house to get used to being out of a hospital.
When she returned to the Herefordshire countryside a few weeks later, she was still susceptible to the mildest illness and was a constant visitor to hospitals in Hereford, Birmingham and Newcastle.
But the stresses and strains of the last five years were all put to one side on Monday morning when Terry and Tracey took Misha to school.
They are both extremely grateful to Bredenbury Primary School, which has arranged for a special support worker to sit next to Misha in the classroom.
And as Misha faces a new challenge, her father and uncle are preparing for one of their own.
The pair have been given free Halo membership to use Bromyard Leisure Centre for three months as they prepare for the 10-day South American trek.
Terry said they hoped to raise somewhere in the region of £20,000, and are currently busy organising bingo nights in Bromyard and auctions of sporting memorabilia, which includes a signed rugby shirt from Newcastle Falcons.
Anyone wishing to help Terry with either financial donations or raffle prizes can call the Bubble Foundation on 0191 256 3460.
7:00am Sunday 14th January 2007