The Royal Children’s Hospital means a little more to Kate Wadsworth than most.
It’s not because she’s a scrub nurse in the hospital’s theatre department, or because she has helped hundreds of kids and performed lifesaving work.
It’s because before all of that, the hospital saved her own daughter, Ayla – a gift she still cannot put into words.
Wadsworth, from St Kilda, had always wanted to work at the RCH.
She loved children and felt the care the hospital was known for was something she wanted to learn, too.
But she never could have imagined the journey that would get her there.
“I’d always had a keen interest in working with kids and I started at Sandringham Hospital, in the operating theatres,” she says. “I was in my first year of being a nurse and remember Ayla had been having headaches and vomiting on occasion. Then she started walking funny, she was losing her balance.
“We took her off to the RCH and she had a CT scan and was diagnosed with a brain tumour.”
The diagnosis, posterior fossa pilocytic astrocytoma, meant Ayla, then four, had a benign tumour growing at the base of her brain stem.
“We were admitted straight away and she had major neurosurgery a couple of days later,” Wadsworth says.
“The surgery (by Dr Patrick Lo) was mostly successful … but there was a little bit that was stuck or attached to the brain stem that they couldn’t safely remove so she ended up having 18 months of chemotherapy.
“Getting through the surgeries themselves was definitely difficult but the chemo treatment was the hardest part. That was confronting.”
Ayla went on to have a second surgery, in an attempt to remove any last bits of the tumour.
She also developed major procedural anxiety, which her mum says was traumatic to watch.
But it’s now been five years since Ayla finished treatment, and almost 10 since she was first diagnosed. She’s a healthy and happy teenager, who loves the arts and being creative.
In 2016, Wadsworth scored her dream job working in theatre at the RCH.
She says it took her a while to “recover” from the traumatic experience and step foot in the hospital again, but knowing she was helping other children like Ayla kept her grounded.
“It was certainly difficult confronting the fact of working there after everything that we had been through,” she says.
“I think it made it even more poignant that the staff had basically saved Alya’s life. And the chance to give back was incredible.”
And in a touching twist, Wadsworth will on occasion work alongside Dr Lo.
The neurosurgeon says he can still remember meeting Ayla and Wadsworth, which makes their journey even more special.
“Kate’s story is reflected in every nurse. They’re there to help our children, all time, ready to act and they should be honoured,” Lo says.
“Ayla’s an amazing kid and mum has done so well.”
Wadsworth says she is grateful every day for her daughter and her family at the RCH.
“The RCH means the world to me. I will forever be indebted to all the amazing staff that have looked after us,” she says.
“I’ll just be forever grateful.”
Story by: Alanah Frost, Herald Sun