PARENTS
18/09/2015 09:35 BST | Updated 18/09/2015 09:59 BST

Baby Who Smelt Of Vinegar Rejected By Doctors 18 Times Before Rare Liver Cancer Diagnosis, Mum Claims

A mum whose newborn baby smelt of vinegar claims doctors told her he was "fine" 18 times before he was diagnosed with a rare liver cancer.

Catherine Hall became convinced her son Archie's symptoms – which also included screaming for 20 hours a day, sweating excessively and projectile vomiting – were all in her head.

The 35-year-old says she took Archie to her GP 10 times following his birth in November 2013 and raised her concerns with health visitors and midwives on a further eight occasions.

But medics repeatedly told her Archie was fit and healthy – until at four-and-a-half months old he was diagnosed with stage four heptoblastoma, a rare liver cancer which is particularly uncommon in young babies.

baby liver cancer

Mum-of-four Hall, from Marple, Stockport, said: "I have three older children, so from the moment Archie was born I knew something was wrong.

"He was screaming a really high-pitched scream constantly for up to 20 hours a day and he would projectile vomit 90% of his bottles back up. It was horrendous.

"There were other things he did at the time which we did not realise were symptoms until after he was diagnosed with heptoblastoma. He sweated excessively, especially at night.

"Archie also smelled very strongly of vinegar even though I bathed and cleaned him all the time. I was always so conscious of it to the point where I didn't want other people to hold him in case they noticed.

"We were later told that was the smell of the cancer 'coming out'."

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Hall claims her GP and health visitor told her "babies do get sick and babies do cry" and suggested Archie probably had reflux or lactose intolerance.

The stay-at-home mum eventually broke down in tears to husband Eric, 46, convinced Archie's illness could be a figment of her imagination.

Hall said: "It was so frustrating knowing something was wrong and it was not getting sorted. I broke down to Eric and asked him if he thought there was actually something wrong with Archie.

"I started to believe it was all in my head."

Then, on March 28 last year, Hall was bathing Archie when she spotted a swelling on the left hand side of his stomach.

She said a GP had examined him the same morning and said everything was fine – but desperate for a second opinion she took him to A&E at Stepping Hill hospital in Stockport.

Archie was admitted to the ward for blood tests and an ultrasound the following day showed a mass on his liver. Shortly afterwards, his parents were told the devastating diagnosis of heptoblastoma.

The youngster was then rushed to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital where doctors found that the tumour, which he had most likely been born with, had grown to cover the whole of his liver.

baby smelt of vinegar

While Archie's weight had risen from 8lbs 5oz at birth to a healthy 14lbs 12oz shortly before his diagnosis, it is likely much of this weight gain was due to the tumour's steady growth.

Hall said: "I was in total shock. It was confirmed I hadn't been imagining things when I believed Archie was ill, and our baby now had a long fight ahead of him.

"In some way I was relieved that at last someone had listened to me and something had been found, but it hadn't even entered my mind that it could be cancer.

"Doctors told us that if we had left it just a couple of weeks longer Archie would have been too poorly to be treated and the cancer would have been terminal.

"There was a mixture of anger that his condition hadn't been identified earlier, and pure admiration at how well he handled everything he had to deal with."

After undergoing three rounds of gruelling chemotherapy, Archie was put on the organ donor list last June and received a new liver at the regional transplant unit in Leeds five days later.

Surgeons painstakingly removed a tiny section from a donor liver and implanted this into Archie's body before he spent three weeks in hospital in Leeds while the new organ settled in.

Eric, 46 had to give up his job as a construction firm site manager to look after the couple's older children Jack, 13, Ella-Louise, 11 and Morgan, seven, while Archie was in hospital.

After more chemotherapy in Manchester, Archie finished treatment last August and, now a happy 22-month-old toddler, is finally on the road to recovery.

Hall said: "Despite everything Archie has gone through, he has grown into a really cheeky chappie with a wicked sense of humour.

"My advice to parents would be to trust your gut instinct. You know your child better than anyone – keep pushing if you think something is wrong until you know you are being listened to."

Hall and Archie are working with Kidscan, which drives research into better treatments for children with cancer which are less damaging and have reduced side effects.

Dr David Pye, scientific director at the Salford charity, said liver damage is known to cause body odours including a strong ammonia smell and Archie's vinegar smell was probably triggered by the heptoblastoma damaging his liver.

Jean Slocombe, senior cancer information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "Unusual smells are not a common symptom of early liver cancer but there are anecdotal reports of people and children with liver disease having many unusual smells.

"The most common symptoms are a lump in the tummy, poor appetite, fatigue, fevers and yellowing of the skin."

Stockport Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and the GP surgery were both approached for comment.

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