When your child has leukaemia, they have to have a weekly blood count to monitor their health. Chemotherapy can affect blood production so the full blood count (FBC) can detect whether they need either a red blood cell or platelet transfusion. The FBC also checks the level of neutrophils and white blood cells in the blood to help detect signs of infection. If any of these levels are out of range then the chemotherapy may need to be paused until they recover. An initiative called Harvey’s Gang is carried out at Gloucestershire Royal to help children gain a deeper understanding of what is happening to them or their sibling.
For the Dinosaur, the weekly FBC is carried out either at home when staffing levels permit or at the hospital. Most weeks this is done via a finger prick but once a month his port is accessed to take the blood sample and flush the port at the same time. A port flush needs to be done monthly to make sure it remains functional and to prevent the line from getting infected.
The staff on the children’s oncology unit are fab and try to involve the children as much as possible, the Dinosaur usually gets to take his sample and put it in the pod to send to the pathology lab for analysis.
This week, thanks to Harvey’s Gang, the Dinosaur, the Unicorn and I were invited to visit the pathology lab to see what happens when the pod arrives!
What is Harvey’s Gang?
Harvey’s Gang began in 2013 at Worthing Hospital when a young leukaemia patient named Harvey asked if he would be able to see what happened to his weekly blood samples. Happily, this wish was granted and Harvey got to go and be a scientist for the day in the lab at Worthing Hospital. Following this visit, several other children also expressed a wish to visit the lab and Harvey’s Gang was born. Since 2013 this initiative has been introduced at other hospitals around the country with great success.
Like a lot of things, the covid pandemic meant that visits had to stop unfortunately but I’m pleased to say that they are beginning again. In fact, we were the first family to take part in Gloucestershire Royal in a post covid world.
What we did in the pathology lab.
When we arrived at the hospital we went to the Children’s Oncology ward to meet Louise (one of the play specialists) and Lou (our newly appointed Clinical Nurse Specialist) who escorted us to the pathology lab. We then met Nikki and Hollie at the lab who were our guides for the morning. They presented the Unicorn and the Dinosaur with their very own Harvey’s Gang lab coats which they were allowed to keep. They were also given a pen and a sheet of paper with pictures of different items to spot around the lab, everytime they saw something, they had to tick it off.
The first thing we were shown was the pod where the blood samples for testing arrive in the lab. They both got to send a pod back out of the lab and the Dinosaur really enjoyed seeing where the pods he has sent from the ward pop out.
Next, we were shown the machine that counts the blood cells within the sample, this is the machine that gives us the Dinosaur’s weekly results. Both children were allowed to load some samples from real patients into the machine.
We then moved round to the next section of the lab where they got to use the pipettes to ‘mix some samples’ – don’t worry, it was just water! They were even allowed to bring the sample pots home with them.
The next job was to help load real patients blood samples into another machine to check the viscosity of the blood. They took it in turns to do this under close supervision.
We then headed over to the microscopes to examine some blood samples. On the screen on the wall, you can see the sample that they were examining. Nikki & Hollie told us what all the different blood cells were that we could see. This was a normal blood sample. On the walls, there were pictures of different kinds of abnormal blood samples including a poster showing what leukaemia blasts look like (to find out about blasts, read my cancer A to Z).
After this, we went to the transfusion lab where we were shown the fridges and the freezers where blood destined for transfusion is stored. The children were allowed to hold some samples and even got to hold a sample of platelets which need to be kept continuously moving to prevent them from clotting. In this area of the lab, we were also shown the reagents that are used to determine what blood type a person is.
The morning was finished off with both children being given a Harvey’s Gang goody bag containing a lanyard, notebooks, pens, coloured pencils and a selection of extra things that the lab had received from reps. My favourite was the red blood cell stress toy which the children thought was a squishy!
We all had a fantastic time visiting the Edward Jenner Pathology Lab at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. It helped the Dinosaur to understand what happens once his blood is taken each week, it helped the Unicorn gain more understanding of what happens to her brother and why he needs to have a ‘pokey’ (his name for a needle prick) each week and it was fascinating for myself to learn more about what the lab does. A huge thanks to Harvey’s Gang and all the staff at Gloucestershire Royal who enabled us to go on the tour.