Leo and his family given a "home away from home"
When Leo Coutinho was 3 years old, he was flown from Coffs Harbour Hospital to the John Hunter Children's Hospital needing emergency surgery for a bowel obstruction. When this diagnosis changed to a stage 2 Wilms Tumour, a very serious cancer found in the kidney, the world turned upside down for Leo and his family.
“We arrived at hospital, but the bowel had seemed to fix itself and Leo was ok,” said Leo’s mum Christine. “The doctors decided to keep him in for a few days for observation because he had been displaying some other behavioural traits that they wanted to monitor.”
A casual comment by Christine’s mum, Linda, to the doctor about the colour of Leo’s urine was enough to have him sent for a kidney scan.
“It really threw me off guard, because we were here for a completely different reason and then to find out he had cancer. It was bad,” said Christine. “The kidney was removed entirely, and a piece of the tumour was sent to the U.S. and was diagnosed as stage 2 Wilms.”
Christine had to navigate the next few weeks of tests, surgery and treatment for Leo while heavily pregnant, and was. She was grateful that Ronald McDonald House was able to assist with accommodation and support during this difficult time. When doctors diagnosed Leo with autism as well as the cancer, Christine knew it was going to be a tough road ahead.
“He had an obsession with green coloured clothes pegs and would wear them, sort them and cart them around in a little trolley,” said Christine. “The oncologists suspected autism and it was confirmed with further specialist testing.”
Amazingly, Christine remained strong and positive and gave birth to a healthy baby girl the day before Leo started his chemotherapy treatment. Baby Indi’s first home was Ronald McDonald House Newcastle. Christine describes the highs and lows of her many stays at Ronald McDonald House as life-changing.
“A little boy lost his life to cancer while we were at Ronald McDonald House and that really upset me. He was only a little bit older than Leo, and it still affects me,” said Christine. “I feel so lucky that Leo’s cancer has been treatable and we found it when we did. I never take anything for granted anymore.”
Leo got the all clear in February 2015, and his six monthly check ups are showing good results. He isn’t as interested in clothes pegs as he used to be, but does take great pride in sorting the household waste into the correct bin.