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Tasmanian boy misdiagnosed with leukaemia after 'constant' nosebleeds and strange bruises: 'Something is severely wrong'

By Maddison Leach|

The only thing that scared Jessica Pearce more than being told her son had leukaemia was when doctors admitted he'd been misdiagnosed - but they had no clue what was wrong with him.?

"It was a strange moment because there was a sense of relief; it's not cancer," the mum-of-three tells 9Honey.

"But at the same time, something is severely wrong and the doctors don't actually know what it is."

The harrowing health ordeal began as 2019 was drawing to a close and Pearce noticed something was amiss with her eldest son Seth Matic, then just seven.

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Jessica Pearce smiles with her eldest son, Seth Matic.
Jessica Pearce smiles with her eldest son, Seth Matic. (Instagram)

Though he seemed like a happy and healthy little boy, he suffered "constant" nosebleeds and unexplained bruises regularly appeared on his skin.

"Being that he was well, I really didn't think much of it," Pearce admits. It wasn't until Matic's dad brought him home from a Christmas visit early that she realised it may be more serious.

She and her partner had plans to take her sons away for a remote camping trip the following day, so Pearce decided to play it safe and took Matic to the local community hospital.

"He didn't come home for weeks and weeks and weeks," she recalls.

Concerned doctors ran blood tests and quickly discovered something was wrong. One pulled Pearce into another room.

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Jessica Pearce with her son Seth Matic in hospital.
Jessica Pearce with her son Seth Matic in hospital. (Facebook)

"At that point, I started to get quite anxious and panicked. Obviously, he had to tell me something he didn't want to say in front of Seth," she says.

"He took me into a little room and sat me down and told me that the blood test showed Seth had leukaemia."

It's the news no parent wants to hear, but Pearce has no time to process as Matic quickly had to be put on an ambulance plane and transferred to a bigger hospital in Hobart.

Pearce frantically called her partner, who threw their bags together and packed Pearce's younger son into the car for the 3.5-hour drive to Hobart, where he would meet them.

"They came to the hospital, just dropped what they were doing and helped keep Seth happy and distracted while I tried to pull myself together," she admits.

There was more bad news to come, as further tests revealed Matic had no platelets or white blood cells and his immune system was totally compromised.

Seth Matic in hospital after being diagnosed with aplastic anaemia.
Seth Matic in hospital. (Facebook)

Doctors quickly began him on blood transfusions, but told his mother that his haemoglobin was so low that "he shouldn't have even been able to function".

Matic also had to undergo a bone marrow biopsy to confirm he had leukaemia, which was when Pearce finally learned her son had been misdiagnosed.?

"Doctors came into Seth's room quite early that morning and said the results of the biopsy actually showed there was no cancer there whatsoever," she reveals.

It should've been a relief, but doctors had no idea what was causing Matic's strange symptoms or why his immune system seemed to have shut down.

When a week had passed and they were still no closer to a diagnosis, the decision was made to send Matic to the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne to find answers.

Once there, the family had to wait days before a team of specialists was finally able to uncover the real problem hiding in the little boy's blood.

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Seth Matic heads into the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne.
Seth Matic heads into the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne. (Facebook)

Matic had aplastic anaemia, a rare and serious condition that occurs when the body stops producing enough new blood cells. Most people have never heard of it.

"Having your child diagnosed with any kind of condition is scary, but having your child diagnosed with a condition that you and nobody that you've met has ever heard about, that's super scary," Pearce says.

There were two treatment options; a bone marrow transplant and chemotherapy, or immunosuppressive therapy. Both would be hard on Matic's tiny body.

The first option was ruled out because there was no suitable donor, as siblings are generally the first choice and Matic's younger brother wasn't a match.

"It was a bit of a relief for me because having a transplant would mean having chemotherapy and the thought of my child having chemo terrified me," Pearce admits.

She was even more relieved when Matic "breezed through" all four doses of immunotherapy treatment and remained his happy self even while cooped up in hospital.

The youngster was thrilled to finally have as much screen time as he wanted, but Pearce struggled to accept the cards her son had been dealt.

"I would sit in the window of his hospital room and watch all the other kids outside running around, playing. I actually felt a bit of resentment," she confesses.

"I just felt that he's been so robbed of that, he shouldn't be in here. I felt very much the same for all the kids on the ward, it was the saddest place I've ever had to live in my life

"It puts things into perspective. It just, I don't think you realise until you're in that situation that it's just life can be so unfair."

"I actually felt a bit of resentment... I just felt that he's been so robbed."

Throughout his treatment, Matic relied on whole blood transfusions and platelet transfusions to supplement his own blood supply.

"He was only surviving thanks to Australian blood donors," Peace recalls. "23 times I sat by my child's side and watched his life be saved by strangers."

Almost three years after his diagnosis, Matic's treatment is over and he's slowly weaning off the last of his medications with doctors hopeful he'll be finished by Christmas.

The harrowing ordeal is over but there's always a chance Matic could relapse, especially because he didn't receive a bone marrow transplant.

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Specialists have assured Pearce that with a response as fast and successful as Matic's was, the chances of a relapse are slim - but not none.?

Knowing that she may one day have to face this battle again, Pearce is doing everything she can to get the word out about aplastic anaemia so no other family has to go through what they did.

"I'm more than happy to do anything I can to help make it a bit more well-known and raise awareness so that it's not so unheard of," she says.

"Maybe one day when a mother is in my position and has a child diagnosed with this condition, maybe that mother will have heard of it before."

That includes working with Maddie Riewoldt's Vision, an organisation that offered Pearce support and understanding throughout her son's journey.

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Seth Matic smiles at the camera after finishing immunosuppressive therapy.
Seth Matic smiles at the camera after finishing immunosuppressive therapy. (Facebook)

The Riewoldt family founded the charity in 2015 following the tragic death of Maddie Riewoldt, then 26, after battling aplastic anaemia.??

It invests in Bone Marrow Failure Syndrome research to help save lives and supports families living with Bone Marrow Failure.

Pearce encourages Aussies to make a change by donating to the charity, donating blood or signing up to be a bone marrow donor to save the lives of kids like hers.

This November, Australians can join the fight against Bone Marrow Failure Syndromes by purchasing a pack of Flavorite tomatoes or capsicums at Coles, with 10 cents from each specially marked pack donated to Maddie Riewoldt's Vision.

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