Property group Riverlee have been long term supporters of the RCH, but never in their wildest dreams did they expect their giving to become so deeply personal. Kevin Lee, second generation owner of the Riverlee family business is forever grateful to the RCH for treating his five year old son, Tyler, after a shock cancer diagnosis in June this year. Whilst Tyler underwent treatment at the RCH, Kevin saw firsthand the impact of the incredible warmth and care of the RCH teams not only for Tyler but countless other children and their families.
Kevin is still in shock as he recalls watching little Tyler fight for life in the RCH Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). Prior to the heartbreaking cancer diagnosis, Tyler was a normal happy go lucky boy running around and playing with his siblings Collin and Mandy.
In late June, Tyler suddenly came down with a persistent fever which did not respond to any pharmacy medication. As it was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the family’s first thought was little Tyler may have caught the virus. Red spots began developing around his eyes and neck and a small cut would not stop bleeding.
“The tipping point was when Tyler said he could not breathe. I listened to his chest and his airways were not blocked – this was when we knew something was not right and we needed to take him to the hospital,” said Kevin.
At their local hospital’s emergency department, doctors ran blood tests which revealed Tyler’s condition was highly complex and needed specialist paediatric care urgently.
“They told us there was no better place to go than the RCH. They were in contact with the hospital and within 30 minutes an ambulance from the RCH arrived with an Intensive Care Specialist on board,” said Kevin.
From there, things moved quickly as Tyler was admitted to the PICU where clinicians ran further tests as his condition deteriorated. Anxiously waiting for answers, Kevin and May finally heard four heart breaking words: “your child has cancer”. Tyler was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (type B), a type of blood cancer which severely weakens the body’s immune response.
“The next 48 hours were the toughest and absolute lowest point of our lives as we came to terms with Tyler’s diagnosis and what it all meant. They told us Tyler’s body was only functioning on 15 per cent normal blood cells when admitted and 85 per cent were leukaemia ‘junk’ cells. Luckily this form of cancer is very treatable and has a high success rate but we’re not out of the woods yet” said Kevin.
Before starting chemotherapy, Tyler first had to beat an infection and spent a week in the PICU with doses of antibiotics and blood support. Once his condition stabilised, Tyler moved to the Kookaburra (cancer care) ward and began his first cycle of a six cycle treatment program. This would form the beginning of a two and a half year treatment plan.
Tyler unfortunately had to celebrate his 5th birthday in hospital. “The night shift nurses personally created decorations for his room and even organised a birthday present for him. It was totally unexpected and we were so touched. We have always known that the RCH was a world class hospital, but this personal experience blew us away. The staff went above and beyond to care for Tyler and our family. Often it is the little things that make the difference,” said Kevin.
“For the first 50 days from Tyler’s diagnosis, we spent approximately 30 nights in hospital over three different unplanned visits. COVID-19 necessitated very strict visitor restrictions which made it very challenging for us. Eventually only one parent was allowed at a time, so May took the day shift and I took the night shift.”
“We had so many touch points with different teams who enhanced our experience; our nurses, music therapists, clown doctors and Tyler’s entire medical team. May and I must express our immense gratitude to our amazing consultant oncologist Dr David Hughes, clinical nurse consultant Alie Barlow and the team of nurses who were our rock and continue to support us on this journey,” said Kevin.
During Tyler’s stay, Kevin met other families from a range of backgrounds, some who had travelled from interstate and regional areas to receive world leading treatment for their child. “This also gave May and I a huge sense of appreciation and made us realise that what we all take for granted, many families are fighting for.”
“No matter who you are or where you come from, every child and their family receives the greatest care and support from a passionate and dedicated team in a world class hospital. This experience was a real eye opener and is the main reason I will ensure our organisation and family give back and will continue our support of the RCH well into the future,” said Kevin.
Tyler is now in remission on cycle four of his treatment program, which is his last major hurdle of heavy hitting chemotherapy before he drops to a lower dose maintenance phase and can resume life as a normal kid. The results so far are very encouraging and the hope is for their little fighter to start Prep next year.
Kevin, along with his three siblings, run the established and highly successful property group Riverlee which specialises in development and asset ownership. Through the company’s charity Riverlee Foundation, the family support causes close to their hearts with a focus on health, medical research and education. Riverlee proudly supported Me and UooUoo: The RCH150 Anniversary Art Trail in 2021 to help change the future of children’s health. They generously purchased a collection of UooUoo sculptures and were event sponsors for the Me and UooUoo Charity Auction, hosting it in the Seafarers Residency Display Suite.
If your organisation is interested in learning about the many ways you can support the RCH, please contact Kate Dear, Corporate Engagement Manager at [email protected].