The Little Linac journey - from York to South Africa via Chile!
Handing over the Little Linacs at CHOC Head Office, Johannesburg:
(L-R) Cheryl Flowers, Adri Ludick, Alta Bence, and Wayne Flowers
IPEM’s Little Linac project aims to give every child undergoing radiotherapy in the UK a free toy brick model of the machine used to treat them. They have been bought by people right around the globe and this is the story of how some ended up in South Africa.
FROM York to Cape Town via Santiago is a bit of a circuitous route but that is how some of IPEM’s Little Linacs ended up at a children’s cancer charity in South Africa.
Wayne and Cheryl Flowers, of Flowbiomed, a company based in Sandton just outside of Johannesburg, were attending the International Conference on Medical Physics in Santiago, Chile, when they spotted the Little Linac on the IPEM stand there.
They got chatting to Professor Stephen O’Connor, IPEM’s President, who told them all about the Little Linac initiative and the aim of giving every child in the UK undergoing radiotherapy a free Little Linac model to help ease their stress and anxiety.
Cheryl said: ‘This really caught our eye and resonated with us, not only because of our business in the oncology sector but also due to the large number of children suffering with cancer in South Africa.
‘Our own medical physics congress, the South African Association of Physicists in Medicine and Biology (SAAPMB), was taking place in Cape Town the following month and we thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to launch this initiative locally.
‘Fortunately, Chris Trauernicht, the current Chair of SAAPMB, was also attending the congress in Chile and he was very excited about the prospect.’
Cheryl and Wayne’s idea was simple: Flowbiomed would buy enough Little Linacs to provide each delegate attending SAAPMB with one to take back to their department and at the same time IPEM agreed to donate the same number of models to their company to give to a local cancer charity.
‘The obvious choice was the Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa (CHOC), which provides free, comprehensive support to families of children with cancer and life-threatening blood disorders,’ said Cheryl.
‘CHOC are mainly active in government hospitals, where children are often from rural backgrounds and families have little concept of what cancer treatment involves.
‘We approached them and they were overwhelmed with the offer and the opportunities it would give them to benefit the children. They have a number of social workers in all the main hospitals and centres, including a few private clinics. They have some resources for explaining chemotherapy, but nothing to prepare the children or educate the parents about what radiation therapy is all about. The Little Linac could be used to show them what a treatment machine looks like, as well as being a tool for therapy in helping to reduce the anxiety being experienced.’
Lynette Muthuray, Western Cape Director CHOC, with Chris Trauernicht, Chair of SAAPMB
During the SAAPMB congress, there was a handover of some Little Linacs to Lynette Muthuray, the Western Cape CHOC Director, who spoke about what a tremendous difference the models would make in the lives of children living with cancer.
Oncology Sister Brown and Professor Alan Davidson
Whilst they were in Cape Town, Cheryl and Wayne also met Professor Alan Davidson, Head of Paediatric Oncology at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital, the largest children’s hospital in Africa. Around 140 children are treated there each year for cancer and Cheryl and Wayne donated a few Little Linacs to the hospital.
Once they were back in Johannesburg, Cheryl and Wayne met up with Adri Ludick, Programme Development Manager, and Alta Bence, Psychosocial Support Services Manager, at the CHOC head office, to hand over the balance of Little Linacs.
‘We were struck by their incredible passion, commitment and enthusiasm,’ said Cheryl. ‘They were thrilled with the donation and see this initiative as something that will develop into a major project.
‘They know Professor Davidson very well, and with him on board, the dream of every child in South Africa undergoing radiation therapy having their own toy has a great chance of being realised. CHOC has received 130 toys in total, a long way off the ultimate goal, but a great start to realising the dream.’