Havelock North girl Matilda Kersjes was just seven when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in 2015.

Her family's life was turned upside down in an instant.

Within five hours, she'd gone from being sick, to being in a critical condition in Hawke's Bay Hospital, the aggressive cancer hitting her kidneys and causing them to go into failure.

Starship Air Ambulance flew Matilda north to Auckland as her body started to shut down.

Advertisement

It was a harrowing journey.

But four years on, her mother Fiona Cooch looks at her 11-year-old daughter "taking life by the horns" and feels nothing but immense gratitude, and immense pride at the strength of her daughter.

Matilda Kersjes, 11, has taken everything in her stride since being diagnosed with leukaemia four years ago. Photo/ Warren Buckland
Matilda Kersjes, 11, has taken everything in her stride since being diagnosed with leukaemia four years ago. Photo/ Warren Buckland

Matilda joined Iona College at the start of this year and has joined every sport team and every activity she can fit into a week.

That was the last thing on her mind four years ago.

When the Starship crew arrived in Hastings the team worked at speed to connect Matilda to the life-saving equipment that would ensure her safe transportation to Starship, where she could receive the specialist care she urgently needed.

"She was on dialysis for a few days, followed by intensive chemotherapy for a year," Cooch said.

"Then she was on maintenance therapy for another year. She was diagnosed in August 2015 and she finished her treatment, took the last tablet, in December 2017."

READ MORE
*Promising student vows to battle cancer diagnosis
*Life after leukaemia: Why Tauranga family is grateful for lessons from cancer battle

Advertisement

Cooch says her daughter has "real strength of character, she's very empathetic for someone her age, she always looks out for people who need help, and she's very caring".

She said she only got through that two years because of how Matilda handled her diagnosis.

"I think children are incredibly resilient. The reason I was coping was because Matilda took everything in her stride.

"I got my strength from her. She kept us all going."

Cooch is "extremely thankful" to Starship and the Starship National Air Ambulance.

"Starship Air Ambulance and Starship is invaluable and unbelievably incredible. The specialists are amazing, the nurses outstanding.

"The Child Cancer Foundation has been amazing for sibling support.

"Matilda has three brothers - one older, one twin and a younger brother and when she was diagnosed they found it very hard.

"The brothers are very protective of her, but they certainly don't wrap her in cotton wool. They don't let her get away with anything."

 Matilda's mum Fiona thinks her daughter is incredibly resilient, empathetic and caring. Photo/ Warren Buckland.
Matilda's mum Fiona thinks her daughter is incredibly resilient, empathetic and caring. Photo/ Warren Buckland.

She has been cancer free for the past two years, but it's potential to return still hangs over the family.

"Matilda is amazing, she's doing incredibly well, but we are not out of the woods yet."

WHAT IS THE STARSHIP NATIONAL AIR AMBULANCE

The "lifeline with wings" transfers critically ill children from any hospital in the country to specialist paediatric care at Starship – our national children's hospital.

Starship's specialists help stabilise the children where necessary and then bring them back to our dedicated Paediatric Intensive Care Unit where they can receive the life-saving care they need.

Each year more than $1.5 million is required to fund the air ambulance.

From Hawke's Bay the average flying time (return leg) is 2 hours 2 minutes, with an approximate average cost of $20,000.

You can donate now at starship.org.nz/foundation or buy a collectable plane from August 26 at your local New World for $3.