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It was worth it! Doctors say British boy’s cancer surgery in Germany is a success
Clearly exhausted after a two-hour operation, Zac Knighton-Smith can still manage a smile that says he’s won the latest round in his battle against cancer.
Seven-year-old Zac Knighton-Smith suffers from neuroblastoma, which affects the developing nerve cells of children
The seven-year-old was rushed to Germany for vital treatment after NHS bed shortages twice forced surgery to be delayed.
And yesterday the operation was declared a success.
Last night his relieved mother Sam said: ‘NHS screw-ups could have cost my son his life. If I was back in England, I’d still be waiting for the operation now.’
As the Daily Mail revealed earlier this week, Miss Knighton, 43, spent 8,000 on the treatment in Germany and a further 2,000 on travel costs, but she doesn’t regret her decision.
She said: ‘I’m just so glad we caught it when we did as who knows what would have happened
‘I’ll move to Germany if I have to so I can get my son the treatment he needs. I just don’t have the confidence in the UK any more.’
Her local MP, Peter Bone, demanded that the NHS refund the cost of Zac’s operation because it had failed to provide the surgery in time.
Zac with mum Sam Knighton and dad Bob Smith at the hospital in Germany
He said: ‘This goes back to the problem that we don’t have enough intensive care beds, but if I were Zac’s parents I would have done exactly the same thing.
‘I would have said: “Blow the NHS, they can do the operations now in Germany and that’s where we are going.” You can understand why the parents have gone down that route.’
Miss Knighton, a former advertising executive who gave up her job to care for Zac, said she and her partner Bob Smith, 42, a forklift truck driver, have faced a long fight to get her son the best treatment after a series of NHS failures.
When he first fell ill aged four, two doctors missed the symptoms of his cancer. It took six months to diagnose him as suffering from a form of the disease called neuroblastoma, which affects the developing nerve cells of children.
After chemotherapy at Leicester Royal Infirmary in 2009, the NHS paid for Zac to go to Germany for a first time to have antibody therapy. While there, doctors removed a tumour near his heart which, incredibly, his family had not even been told about.
Zac was given the all-clear in February last year, but a follow-up scan in May revealed three cancerous lymph nodes in his abdomen.
Zac was forced to have the operation at the Universitas Medizin Hospital Greifswald in Germany because of NHS bed shortages
Bed shortages meant a possible NHS operation in Nottingham in December was put back to January 19 this year, but after Miss Knighton’s complaints a surgery date was found in Leicester for January 4.
Brave: Doctors at the hospital described Zac as a ‘fighter’ and declared the operation a success
When this was cancelled half an hour before Zac was due to leave for hospital – again due to beds – a desperate Miss Knighton called the consultant who had previously treated her son in Germany.
On Wednesday, Zac underwent the two-hour operation at the University Hospital Greifswald.
The surgery was delicate because the lymph nodes lie close to major blood vessels, which had to be moved out of the way.
Thankfully consultant Dr Hagen Graf Einsiedel described Zac as a ‘fighter’ and said the surgery had been ‘perfect’ – although he warned the schoolboy would need further therapy to prevent a relapse.
For now, though, Zac is already up and about talking, playing games and eating meals.
The family are hoping to return to their home in Rushden, Northamptonshire, within a week.
A relieved Miss Knighton said: ‘I’m just so glad I didn’t wait. He’s in the best hands here and I know I’ve done my best for him.
‘Though I will say that Zac’s consultant in England, Dr Johannes Visser, has helped us so much and has gone the extra mile for him.
‘On diagnosis, we were told two thirds of children don’t make it. There’s a possibility that it will just come back again.
‘I’ve learned over the three years that I’ve had to stay one step ahead. The worry, the stress, will never leave me now.
‘Between scans, I won’t be able to stop myself worrying. But I still have something making me think that Zac will beat it. I’m starting to see a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.’