First patient who entered Acute Leukaemia Service at Sunshine Coast Health successfully completes his treatment

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Gary McGrath with SCHHS staff

A Gympie man who was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukaemia in September last year and was the first to undergo care at Sunshine Coast Health, is now also the first to successfully complete his treatment within the service.

If Gary McGrath had been diagnosed a week earlier he would have been transferred to Brisbane for an initial one month stay, instead he was taken to ward 5D at Sunshine Coast University Hospital (SCUH) as part of the newly launched Acute Leukaemia Service.

“When one of the nurses here said if it had been a week earlier, I would have gone to Brisbane. I was worried because my partner and everyone live up in Gympie so that would have been a major drive to come down and see me,” Gary said.

Sunshine Coast Health Haematologist Dr Helen Weston said from there Gary underwent intensive chemotherapy.

“He had what can initially be the most life-threatening leukaemia that can have a lot of complications. He had a very stormy course initially and there were times I was concerned he might end up in intensive care, but he made it through,” Dr Weston said.

After his initial stay at SCUH, Gary was treated in the outpatients unit for treatment every other month from Monday – Friday, where he stayed at the Wishlist House.

Eight months later, he has just completed his last round of chemotherapy.

“This is the most difficult type of leukaemia to treat, particularly initially, so getting someone through is really satisfying,” Dr Weston said.

“There’s a 95% chance this is a cure for Gary which is a fantastic outcome for leukaemia.”

An outcome that Gary is very grateful about.

“She saved my life, without a doubt. How do you thank someone that saved your life? There are no words that can say it,” he said.

Gary also extended his gratitude to the nurses and other medical staff who cared for him along the way.

“I’ll be so glad to get back into my normal life but on the other hand I’m so sad that I’m leaving beautiful people behind, I hope I can see them again under different circumstances,” he said.

“I can’t praise them enough - they’re beautiful people, they can’t do enough for you. At one stage I didn’t even know if I was going to make it I was that bad. When you’re laying in bed your mind is still going 100 miles an hour about things that you’ve got to do - but being around these people you’re not depressed long – they bring you back to normal.”

Sunshine Coast Health Haematology Clinical Nurse Consultant Alana Phillips said offering the Acute Leukaemia Service on the Sunshine Coast means keeping families together during a challenging time.

“It’s really satisfying and super humbling, I guess we see some of the sickest patients in some of the most challenging of times for them so it’s really nice to be able to walk with them and be a bit of a bright spark for them when they’re feeling down,” she said.

“The treatment for leukaemia is quite intense and quite long in nature and Gary was the first person we started treatment with and the first one to be able to get through his whole treatment regime so it’s super exciting and a real achievement for both the inpatient unit and the outpatient unit here on the Sunshine Coast.”

Now he’s heading home, Gary said he has a lot of catching up to do around the property and he is looking forward to getting back into shape.