Born with a tumour the size of an orange, how miracle baby Rylee's little body cured itself
A Northern Ireland baby who developed a cancerous tumour the size of an orange while he was still in the womb is now a happy one-year-old after he healed himself.
Miracle baby Rylee Brady was diagnosed with rare childhood cancer neuroblastoma days after birth, but he is now tumour-free.
His mum Shelbie Barnes (23) was told he may have to have chemotherapy. But then his tumour started shrinking.
When Shelbie went into labour on October 1, 2015 at 37 weeks she had no idea anything was wrong with her son.
Told at her 30-week scan that he was heavy for his age, she assumed she was having a big baby.
"We thought he'd weigh around 10lb," said Shelbie, who lives with Rylee's dad, painter Michael Brady (27).
When he arrived three weeks early, though, following a labour that lasted just under 24 hours, he weighed just 5lb 5oz and was already very ill. As he wasn't breathing, he was immediately rushed to neo-natal intensive care at the Royal Victoria Hospital and taken for tests.
At this stage doctors didn't know that he already had neuroblastoma - which develops from the neuroblast nerve cells as a baby grows.
Full-time mum Shelbie said: "It was so scary for me. He was taken away and I wasn't able to see him. I didn't know what was going on. His daddy didn't even get to hold him, because they had to take him away straight away."
Rylee was struggling to breathe or feed and then they discovered there was a tumour the size of an orange in his abdomen.
He needed an urgent biopsy, but was so seriously ill that any operation carried a high risk of him bleeding to death. At just three days old, Shelbie and Michael were told that he needed to be transferred to Birmingham Children's Hospital so specialist doctors could try to carry out the biopsy. It meant an hour-long plane journey across the Irish Sea accompanied by a doctor. Shelbie was reluctant, fearing Rylee might not make it - but she knew he needed treatment.
"I didn't want him to go anywhere and I just cried and cried," she said. "He was so small and sick and I hadn't even been able to hold him properly at that stage". At the children's hospital medics performed more tests and gave his parents the heartbreaking news he had neuroblastoma. Shelbie said: "It was awful. I had heard of other kids who had neuroblastoma and I knew how ill they were, so to hear my little baby had it was really difficult."
Over the next two weeks medical staff stabilised Rylee's breathing and feeding to try to build up his strength. Doctors there said he may need chemotherapy to shrink the tumour, but in mid-October he returned via plane to Belfast.
At this stage Rylee weighed just 5lbs - smaller than when he was born - and his mum was terrified he wouldn't be able to cope with the strain of chemo.
The oncologist in Belfast told them that, in some babies, neuroblastoma can start to shrink by itself - advising them to wait and see before starting chemotherapy.
"I didn't know whether we should take the chance or not," his mum said. "I had to either put Rylee through chemotherapy or leave this hateful tumour inside my baby boy. I decided to follow the doctor's advice and just wait and see."
Rylee was still struggling to feed and had to stay in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, where medics inserted a tube directly into his small intestine.
At seven weeks old he was taken off oxygen and his parents were able to take him home for the first time.
"It was so brilliant to have him home," Shelbie said. "I was finally able to be a mum. It was hard because he still had feeding tubes, but it didn't matter what he was coming home with. I was just happy to have him there.
"None of our families had met him and his dad had only held him a week before that, so it was just brilliant."
Rylee had to have scans every few days to keep an eye on the tumour and doctors were delighted when it started to shrink - meaning he didn't need chemotherapy. In May, at eight months old, Riley was declared tumour-free.
Shelbie said: "I was so happy and it was amazing to get such good news. Our appointments started to be reduced to every two weeks, then every month and then every two months. It was amazing. When they first told me it was going away by itself, I didn't believe them."
Although Rylee still needs regular check-ups to make sure the tumour doesn't return, his early health problems haven't had a lasting impact and he's now a very active one-year-old.
"Now he's completely healthy," Shelbie added.