Charlie Robinson underwent major brain surgery at Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital aged just 2 years old, after a rare type of tumour was found on his brain. Unfortunately the surgery was unsuccessful. Over the next 6 months Charlie underwent a long journey to treat the tumour. Throughout this time, Alfie the Pets As Therapy pug was visiting him weekly, helping to brighten his spirits.
Pets can not only have a positive impact on their owner’s life, but also on complete strangers’ lives too. This is the case with Pets As Therapy dog Alfie, and three-year-old Charlie Robinson from Preston.
In June 2018, when he was just two years old, a rare type of tumour called an ependymoma was found on Charlie’s brain. Just ten days after his diagnosis, Charlie underwent his first major brain surgery at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. Unfortunately, surgeons were unable to remove all of the tumour at this first surgery. It was here that Charlie’s six-month long journey to attempt to treat the tumour began. In total Charlie underwent six neurological surgeries, as well as chemotherapy and proton beam therapy, and spent most of this time in hospital.
But, through this incredibly hard time in his life, Charlie had a four-legged friend visiting him every week for cuddles to help brighten his day; Alfie the Pets As Therapy pug. John, Charlie’s father, said: “My sister is a nurse and knew about Alfie and the work he did as a therapy dog, visiting poorly patients in children’s wards. She suggested it might be a good idea for him to pay a visit to Charlie. We have our own sausage dog, Branston, at home who Charlie loves, so we agreed that it may help keep Charlie’s spirits up and distract him whilst in hospital. As soon as they met, Alfie put a big smile on Charlie’s face, which was great to see. It was from then on that they became firm friends and Alfie would come to visit once a week.”
Alfie was not only a regular visitor to Charlie when he was at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. After his unsuccessful surgery Charlie underwent nine weeks of chemotherapy there. Sadly this had no positive effect either, and a panel at the Hospital said there was nothing more that could be done for Charlie other than palliative care. They estimated that he had only six more months to live. Only one surgeon in the country was willing to attempt further surgery: Conor Mallucci, a paediatric neurosurgeon at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool. Charlie moved there, and Alfie the Pug made special trips to Liverpool to continue visiting Charlie.
Charlie’s father, John Robinson, said: “We were absolutely heartbroken when we were told that the chemotherapy wasn’t working, and Charlie’s tumour had in fact grown and that there was probably nothing else that could be done to save his life. That realisation and that feeling is something no parent should have to go through, but that was the reality we had got to unfortunately.”
Luckily on his second attempt, Mr Mallucci was successful in completely removing all of the remaining tumour on Charlie’s brain.
“I can’t put into words the joy and relief we felt once we found out that Charlie’s tumour had finally been fully removed. It was a feeling I can’t describe,” said John. “And Alfie was there all the way supporting Charlie. Even when he was at his weakest and could barely open his eyes, Charlie knew that Alfie was there, and his cuddles instantly seemed to settle him. Alfie is such a laid-back dog, so he had a very calming influence on Charlie, and it was amazing to see what an impact he has on all the children he visits.”
Suzy Emsden, Alfie’s owner and a consultant at North West & North Wales Paediatric Transport Service, takes Alfie to visit children at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, Wythenshawe Hospital, Stepping Hill and the Manchester Royal Infirmary in her spare time. Suzy said: “Alfie passed his Pets As Therapy training when he was 18 months old, and from then on he has visited children in various hospitals and wards, from intensive care to physiotherapy. He even visited children who were hospitalised because of the Manchester Arena attack, and he is still in touch with some of them now.
“You can tell that Alfie and Charlie have a special relationship and it’s wonderful to see how much Charlie beams whenever he sees him. We even got special permission to see Charlie in Alder Hey, and you could tell that the visit made his day.
After Charlie’s successful final operation, he then had to undergo proton beam therapy in Germany over the Christmas period of 2018. The proton beam therapy is to help prevent the regrowth of the cancer cells, and has less side effects on a developing brain, such as Charlie’s, than traditional radiotherapy. Charlie is now back at home with his family in Preston. He is currently having physiotherapy to regain his movement and speech and has to have scans every three months to check everything is okay.
Although he isn’t in hospital anymore, there are still plans for Charlie and Alfie to see each other.
“We definitely want to meet up with Alfie and Suzy again now Charlie is out of hospital,” continued John.
“Alfie is a great dog and Suzy is such a lovely, selfless person. Alfie has been an important part of our whole journey and really helped us as a family. It just goes to show what a positive impact simply being around a pet can have.”
Want to know more about how therapy dogs support patients? Read more Pets As Therapy volunteer stories. To follow Alfie the Pets As Therapy pug’s journey and find out more about his work, follow @alfiethepug_beat on Instagram.