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Boy’s letter to Santa asking him to help cancer-struck pal

An eight-year-old boy has written to Santa asking him not to give him any gifts this year, but instead to donate money to help his brain tumour-stricken friend. 

Instead of toys and treats this year, selfless Luke Bedford only wants Orla Hermitage, six, to live. 

The youngster has been battling inoperable cancer since she was 10 months old, enduring gruelling chemotherapy for two-and-a-half years.

The treatment appeared to help but the tumour has since grown and her parents now fear this Christmas maybe their last with Orla. 

The caring schoolboy, of Knebworth, Hertfordshire, wrote in his heart-warming letter to Santa: ‘The only thing I want for Christmas is money for charity’.

The note began: ‘Dear Mrs Claus and Mr Claus, aka Santa. Please may you give it to Keech Hospice and the Sick Children’s Trust because I have a friend Thomas who has a cousin who is currently suffering from cancer and I want my friend to have a cousin and other people. Please, please, please give me no presents for Christmas, love Luke.’

Luke Bedford says all he wants for Christmas is for his friend Orla Hermitage to live

The eight-year-old says 'The only thing I want for Christmas is money for charity'

The eight-year-old says ‘The only thing I want for Christmas is money for charity’

Mother Susan, pictured with her husband Simon and Orla and her brother Edward 

Mother Susan, pictured with her husband Simon and Orla and her brother Edward 

‘I don’t want any presents’

Remarkably, at the time of penning his poignant note to Father Christmas in November, Luke had never even met Orla.

The letter, which moved his mother Tanya Bedford, 41, and Orla’s mother Susan Hermitage, 37, to tears, was passed to Susan via her sister Charlotte, Thomas’ mum.

Explaining why he wrote the letter, Luke said: ‘My best friend Thomas told me his cousin has cancer.

‘She’s very poorly. I don’t really know what it is, but I know it’s very bad. I don’t want any presents I want Santa to help and so the charity can help Orla and other people, and my friend can have a cousin.’  

The little girl's family say this Christmas may be their last with little Orla

The little girl’s family say this Christmas may be their last with little Orla

They thought she just had a bug

Susan, of Stevenage, Hertfordshire, said that when little Orla first arrived into the world, she was a ‘happy, bouncy baby’.

Then, around nine months old, she began to frequently vomit, throwing up her milk most mornings.

Worried Susan – who has another child, three-year-old Edward with her designer husband Simon, 37 – took her daughter to the GP, who initially thought she’d caught a simple bug.

Then, Orla began to tug down on her right ear in distress.

‘It was obvious she was in pain, but she couldn’t articulate exactly where,’ said Susan, who is a full-time carer to Orla.

‘We went back to the GP, this time thinking it was an inner ear infection, but tests seemed to come back fine.’

The youngster has been battling inoperable cancer since she was 10 months old

The youngster has been battling inoperable cancer since she was 10 months old

She collapsed and had fits

Things came to a terrifying head in May 2012, when Orla collapsed completely out of the blue.

She was raced to Lister Hospital in Stevenage where, in the early hours of the next morning, she began fitting, suffering a seizure so severe that medics had to place her in an induced coma.

They then ran an MRI scan, which found a 7cm by 5cm tumour on the toddler’s brain.

‘It was enormous, so big that it’d pushed her brain to the edge of her skull, where it had started to be forced down her spinal column,’ said Susan.

‘The doctors said to us that it was very touch and go, and she probably wouldn’t make the next few hours.’

Orla has endured gruelling chemotherapy for two-and-a-half years

Orla has endured gruelling chemotherapy for two-and-a-half years

But the treatment has had limited effect – in May this year, a routine check-up scan discovered the tumour had begun to grow again

But the treatment has had limited effect – in May this year, a routine check-up scan discovered the tumour had begun to grow again

The staff needed to find a hospital that had a neurosurgeon and a spare intensive care bed imminently. They made some urgent calls and Orla was transferred to Addenbrookes in Cambridge.

There, the youngster underwent an operation in which her skull was essentially drilled to relieve some of the pressure and fluid that had built up as a result of the tumour – a condition known as hydrocephalus.

For the next five weeks, she remained in intensive care hooked up to two shunts, which continued to drain the fluid build-up.

Next, she began chemotherapy, which she continued to have for the next two-and-a-half years, after which the tumour appeared to have shrunk, giving the family some long-awaited good news.

Orla and Luke finally met in person for the first time earlier this month, spending the afternoon playing together. Luke heard of her plight through his friend Thomas, Orla's cousin

Orla and Luke finally met in person for the first time earlier this month, spending the afternoon playing together. Luke heard of her plight through his friend Thomas, Orla’s cousin

Devastating news 

However, in May this year, a routine check-up scan discovered it had begun to grow again.

‘She’s started chemotherapy again, which will continue to next year,’ said Susan. ‘At the moment, things are very up in the air. Her tumour is currently classed as inoperable, which may change if it starts to shrink, but it’s a case of waiting to see.

‘We’ll find out just a few days before Christmas if the chemo is working. There’s a lot hanging in the balance. We desperately want to celebrate Christmas, but we’re very aware it might be our last with Orla.

‘She’s also been left hugely disabled, as the tumour is on her right frontal lobe, which affects cognition. 

‘In a way it’s a blessing as she doesn’t understand the hideousness of what’s happening, but other times I wish I could explain the procedures to her, as I think that’d help calm her down.’

The family will find out just a few days before Christmas if the chemo is working

The family will find out just a few days before Christmas if the chemo is working

Susan has praised Luke for writing the touching letter and says he 'is such an incredibly selfless boy'

Susan has praised Luke for writing the touching letter and says he ‘is such an incredibly selfless boy’

Touching gesture  

Tanya and her husband Darren, 48, are very proud of their son for writing the emotional letter to Santa last month.

The only person he told about his touching gesture was his big brother James, 12, who then read it out to their parents. 

And Susan found it a very touching gesture. 

Speaking about the moment she read the letter, she said: ‘I’m not a hugely emotionally person anymore – you can’t be with what we’re facing, you just have to try and press on with it – but I shed a tear reading it.

‘Luke is such an incredibly selfless boy. If he can do this at just eight, what’s he going to be capable of as an adult? He shows other children that great things can happen if you’re good.’

Tanya with her husband Darren and children (left to right) Luke, Jessica and James 

Tanya with her husband Darren and children (left to right) Luke, Jessica and James 

BRAIN TUMOURS 

Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40.

Almost 11,000 people are diagnosed each year with a primary brain tumour, including 500 children and young people – that’s 30 people every day.

Over 5,000 people lose their lives to a brain tumour each year.

At least 102,000 children and adults are estimated to be living with a brain tumour in the UK currently.

Brain tumours reduce life expectancy by on average 20 years – the highest of any cancer.

Just 19 per cent of adults survive for five years after diagnosis.

Brain tumours are the largest cause of preventable or treatable blindness in children.

Over £500m is spent on cancer research in the UK every year, yet less than 2 per cent is spent on brain tumours

Source: The Brain Tumour Charity

Fundraising appeal 

Now, Luke has set up an online page to raise funds for both The Sick Children’s Trust and Keech Hospice Care, both of whom Susan says have been an incredible help to her family.

She said: ‘I’d like to say how hugely grateful I am to the charities. I don’t know what I’d have done without them.

‘When you’re suddenly caring for a very sick child, you feel like you’ve got to become a doctor overnight, but Keech were fantastic. They helped us so much in all sorts of ways – counselling, practical care, home visits and even hydrotherapy so we can all go swimming as a family.

‘It’s incredible what they offer.’

So far, the page has raised more than £1,300 on the page, and around £400 locally.

Tanya added: ‘Every day, Luke will ask how the page is doing and whether we’ve got any more donations.

‘He’s still adamant he doesn’t want presents.’ 

Orla made such an impression on Luke that afterwards told his mother he wished she was his cousin too

Orla made such an impression on Luke that afterwards told his mother he wished she was his cousin too

Orla's family held a sixth birthday party for Orla who enjoyed her cake 

Orla’s family held a sixth birthday party for Orla who enjoyed her cake 

Last week, Luke and Orla finally met in person for the first time, spending the afternoon playing.

Orla made such an impression on Luke that afterwards told his mother he wished she was his cousin too.

Praising her courageous daughter, Susan said: ‘She’s incredible. She’s faced so much – 11 operations, an MRI scan every three months and years of chemotherapy.’

According to the ONS, cancers remains the most common cause of death for children aged one to 15 years.

Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40, with almost 30 people being diagnosed a day, according to the Brain Tumour Charity.

Susan said: ‘I’d really like to raise awareness of brain tumours, too. Most people don’t know this, but they’re the biggest killer of children in the UK, and yet they’re so massively underfunded and behind with research.’

You can donate to Orla’s fund here. 



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