Family’s desperate plea for help

Happy memories: Aleacia with her dad.

By Brendan Rees

In just a few short months a Narre Warren mother’s life has been torn apart.

At 57, Leanne Lawtey’s husband sadly lost his 12-month leukemia battle in the early hours of Tuesday morning 5 October.

And their 14-year-old daughter Aleacia, who hasn’t been able to see her father since June, is battling a rare disease.

“He was the love of my life,” Ms Lawtey said of her husband John. “A beautiful, beautiful soul.”

Ms Lawtey said her husband’s condition had begun to improve until he took a turn for the worse and “had no fight left in him”.

“We thought there was light at the end of the tunnel for him to come home,” she said.

Meanwhile, Ms Lawtey is a full-time carer to their daughter Aleacia who was born with hereditary spastic paraplegia, a neurological disorder that gradually stiffens and weakens the muscles.

She has been confined to a wheelchair since she was four and has never been able to walk independently.

In June, Aleacia underwent scoliosis surgery but her recovery took longer than expected and required intensive inpatient rehabilitation.

While Aleacia was in hospital, Ms Lawtey’s husband was admitted to the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness and Research Centre where he started chemotherapy.

But the family was told the only chance of a cure was through a stem cell transplant.

While several possible donors were found, the Covid-19 pandemic meant sourcing a donor from overseas “became near impossible and problematic”.

Their 16-year-old son then selflessly stepped up as a volunteer which “would change everything”.

“It was no longer an allogeneic stem cell transplant, Ms Lawtey said. “It became a haploidentical stem cell transplant and had never been done at the ONJ centre before. John is now their first haplo transplant.”

A haploidentical transplant uses healthy, blood-forming cells from a half-matched donor to replace the unhealthy ones in which the donor is typically a family member.

“All the while I was trying my best to support my daughter in hospital, my son going through the donation process and my husband who was also in hospital,” Ms Lawtey said.

In spite of their grief the family now face another hurdle.

“When my daughter was finally able to go home we were unable to transport her as we don’t have a wheelchair accessible car and I could no longer lift or slide her into our 14-year-old van,” Ms Lawtey said, adding she was limited to using national patient transport.

“Aleacia has missed several appointments at the Royal Children’s Hospital because I am unable to transport her.”

With the family’s income reduced to Centrelink support and unable to afford taxi fares, Ms Lawtey has now launched a desperate appeal to raise more than $15,000 so she can buy a wheelchair- accessible car for her daughter.

“We are unable to get or pay off a loan, so I have started a GoFundMe in hopes that kind hearted, generous souls will assist us to purchase a reliable second-hand wheelchair accessible car.”

Ms Lawtey said she gave a “heartfelt thank you” to anyone that could help her family.

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