A seven-year-old boy lost his battle against leukaemia just before he was able to receive potentially life-saving stem cells from his twin brother.
An recent inquest into his death revealed he had previously undergone a successful bone marrow transplant and was two weeks away from receiving lymphocytes donated by his identical sibling, Rocco.
Since his death, Reuben’s family have launched a campaign called Red4Reu and have raised more than £10,000 towards leukaemia research.
His mum Jayne Whittle said: ‘Reuben had a successful bone marrow transplant and things again were on the up.
‘However, it was always in the back of our mind whether the leukaemia would return again and unfortunately, it did.
‘As a family we were shocked and devastated but pulled together and thought we can beat this again. chemo not only pushes down the disease, it also pushes down the lymphocytes so very very bravely – and it would have been the first of its kind – Rocco did donate his lymphocytes to Reuben.
‘As we waited for Reuben to be fit enough for the CART transplant, Reuben’s twin brother, Rocco, donated his stem cells for transplant.
‘But the tragedy of it all was that those cells had to go off to America for tests and sadly Reuben was about two weeks away from getting those cells put in when he sadly died. It so really tragic and it’s left Rocco, obviously, with a lot of questions.
‘He wondered if the aeroplane was late bringing the cells back and it’s been very difficult for him to come to terms with everything that’s happened.
‘As a family we are devastated and there will always be a piece missing forever from our family unit.
‘Reuben was and always will be our little hero as we can honestly say we have never seen anyone else possess the courage, bravery and positivity that he had.’
The boy’s condition had deteriorated and he developed a severe fungal infection in his chest while he awaited results of tests on CAR T-cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy.
He was laid to rest in his beloved Liverpool FC shirt and dressing gown in October 2019.
The inquest was told Reuben was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukaemia in 2015, and developed the rare Philadelphia chromosome.
He was treated with chemotherapy for two years and the cancer went into remission – but he relapsed and underwent a bone marrow transplant in March 2018.
The following year his illness returned, and his family offered to donate Rocco’s stem cells for transplant to increase the level of white blood cells in Reuben’s body.
Mrs Whittle told the hearing in Manchester: ‘Reuben was a super little boy. He was kind and caring. He always thought of others. He was so loved by his family and friends. He was just loved by everybody.
‘He liked football. It was “Liverpool, Liverpool, Liverpool”. It was all Liverpool FC. He loved his family, loved being with his friends.
‘He was just a cracking little boy, inside and out. He loved watching football, and he loved playing football.’
Dr Denise Bonney, a paediatric haematologist at the hospital, said Reuben had ‘responded really well’ to treatment but it was ‘likely’ the disease would return.
Consultant Dr Rachel Barber added: ‘Reuben came in with an infection in October 2019.
‘He had a bone marrow transplant and lymphoblastic leukaemia, which may have complicated his ability to fight off infection.
‘Reuben deteriorated over his first week of treatment… we had a conversation with Reuben parents about what needed to be done the next day or two. We talked about intubation and putting him on a ventilator.
‘Because he was coughing up blood, when we put these children on a ventilator, it can cause a massive pulmonary bleed. I do not think anything we could have done would have made a difference to Reuben.’
Coroner Zak Golombeck recorded a conclusion of death by natural causes.
He said: ‘Dr Bonney told me that the transplant was “like a walk in the park” for Reuben, which I think just goes to show the very nature of this brilliant little boy, who had undergone so much and did not allow this disease to affect his life or at least not to have a significant effect on his loves, which were clearly his family, friends, and his football.
‘He was a lover of Liverpool football club and I was told his favourite player was Alisson [Becker], the goalkeeper.
‘I found a little quote about how the goalkeeper in a soccer team is described as the “jewel in the crown of any team”. From everything I have heard about Reuben, he was certainly the jewel in the crown.’
You can donate to the Red4Reu campaign here.
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