Modern medicine gives living hope to toddler

Liam Little has a rare, life-threatening disease but even at his sickest, his mum Natasha says: “You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.”

The toddler, who has spent much of his life in hospital, was diagnosed with auto-immune enteropathy at nine months of age, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the intestinal wall.

It has resulted in diarrhoea, painful skin rashes and the loss of his hair.

Queensland pediatricians diagnose about one case every five years, with the condition affecting an estimated 100 people Australia-wide.

Liam, 2, is fed through a tube into his stomach and like organ transplant patients, he takes immuno-suppressant drugs to prevent his immune system attacking his body.

Without 21st century medicine, doctors have told his parents their only child would have been lucky to see his second birthday.

“Now there’s more in place that can be done for them,” Mrs Little said.

“We’re hoping further research will give Liam … a better long-term prognosis. Research is such a vital thing in saving children like Liam.”

Although Liam looked a picture of health as he happily jumped on the furniture at his parents’ home in Wishart, on Brisbane’s southside, yesterday, he’s unable to attend day care, or big gatherings, such as a football game with his dad.

“Because his immune system is suppressed, he’s obviously susceptible to picking up viruses and things,” Mrs Little said.

“If he does pick something up, he’s going to be a lot sicker than any other child because he has no immune system to fight off anything. Just for his own safety, daycare and childcare centres are out.

“I won’t be returning to work which is fine because I get to spend every day with Liam.

”The main thing for us is keeping Liam well. As sick as he’s been and with everything he’s been through, who can complain when you look at how happy he is?”

Doctors suspect auto-immune enteropathy is genetic but have so far been unable to identify a defect gene in Liam’s case and the Littles hope to have another child.

“We definitely always wanted two and think it’s important for Liam to have a brother or sister,” Mrs Little said.

The family will take part in next Sunday’s Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation Running4Research event at Brisbane’s Roma Street Parkland from 8am.

© 2009 Queensland Newspapers.