Norfolk boy battles Leukaemia as doctors are astounded

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Norfolk boy battles Leukaemia as doctors are astounded

A Norfolk Catholic family have spoken of the vital role of prayer and community support as, with amazing medical support, they nurse their four-year-old son through a tough battle against a rare form of Leukaemia. Joshua Clovis reports.

James Gillespie has been navigating a challenging battle since Christmas Eve 2020 when, at just one-year-old, he was rushed to hospital following a period of illness and unresolved infections. It was discovered that James has a rare form of Leukaemia (MPAL) requiring immediate surgery and intense chemotherapy and a probable 3-4 years of ongoing treatment.

Following surgery on Christmas Day and intense chemotherapy on Boxing Day, James suffered a stroke, requiring more long-term care and treatment.

Throughout their journey, James’s parents, David and Anne-Marie Gillespie have been steadfast in their support, balancing the demands of James’s treatment with the needs of their five other children, traveling back and forth from Norfolk to Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

After being diagnosed with MPAL in 2020, initial treatment plans for James faced significant problems. The chemotherapy was not yielding the desired results even after six rounds, and the situation became dire, necessitating a 100% bone marrow match donor. Miraculously, Faith, James’s older sister, proved to be a perfect match. Faith, age 15, with ongoing GCSEs, underwent a 4.5-hour operation to extract bone marrow from her lower back, demonstrating immense courage and love for her brother. Following this, James was transferred to Bristol Children’s Hospital in April 2021 to receive the bone marrow transplant from Faith. The family endured a four-month separation due to post-Covid restrictions, a period that was incredibly challenging as only Anne-Marie could stay with James.

The financial and emotional toll of James’s illness prompted the local community to set up fund raising events and an online page. This initiative has provided vital support, helping to cover medical expenses, travel costs, and other family needs during this challenging period. The fundraiser also contributed toys to the Addenbrookes Children’s Ward, bringing joy to children facing similar battles.

However, the journey took another heart-wrenching turn on September 29, 2023, when after 2 years and 6 months in remission, James relapsed. The prognosis was daunting, with very limited chances of recovery. Yet, despite this, Dr Rob Wynn from Manchester Children’s Hospital extended a lifeline. Dr Wynn, leading a Cord Transplant Trial with promising results, proposed an innovative approach for James – a second intensive transplant using cord blood cells and Granulocytes.

On January 11, James had the second vital cord cell transplant. Post-surgery, he is now being monitored by doctors and nurses, and will be on many medications for a while. James could be in Manchester for up to eight months while he goes through intensive recovery.

James is the youngest of six children and his parents David, a self-employed painter and decorator, and Anne-Marie, a self-employed carer met as teenagers. Anne-Marie will be James’s main carer while he recuperates in Manchester, and she has spoken of the family’s journey and how important prayer has been through everything they have gone and are going through.

“James has astounded every doctor in the four hospitals we have been to and overcome mountains, especially when we were told he would not make it. This was even when he was on life-support and we were told there was nothing more they could do,” she said.

“We asked everybody to pray harder than they had ever prayed before, even people who didn’t know him. A few days later, James was woken up from his coma, leukaemia-free, and the infection, which they said had spread to his brain and organs, had gone. There were no words to be said except thanks be to God.”

The medical team was astonished at James’s recovery, said Anne-Marie: “The doctors still can’t believe his current condition. His latest test shows he is still disease-negative, which is unbelievable, not just to us but also to the consultants nationwide who are watching and learning from his treatment.”

Father Andrew Eburne, the Parish Priest at Our Lady of the Annunciation, Poringland, the parish of the Gillespie family, stated: “It is a privilege to have James and his family in our parish. They are a great example of faith and trust in God, no matter how difficult our circumstances.

“Despite the demands of James’s treatment, the family continue to be an important part of the parish, and his brother and sister are continuing with their First Holy Communion classes this year. We are praying that the family can be all together for their First Holy Communion on the feast of Corpus Christi.

“James and his family are a reminder of the teaching of St John Paul II, that those who are sick are not actually a burden but have a great value in themselves, and that they can be a great gift to the church and to the community. James is just such a gift, and the parish are united in praying for him and his family.”

James’s story is a testament to the power of faith and prayer, the resilience of the human spirit, the strength of family bonds, and the profound impact of community support. As James continues his recovery, the collective hope and prayers of his family and supporters remain a source of strength and inspiration.

If you would like some more information, or would like to make a donation, please visit James’s GoFundMe page via

See pictures from the Baby James 2023 Help public Facebook group here:

Pictured above is James Gillespie and, below with mother Anne-Marie. Pictures from Facebook page, linked above.