Transatlantic trip for cutting-edge therapy

Niamh with mum Julie.
Niamh with mum Julie.

An Alnwick mum is preparing for a transatlantic trip so that her 12-year-old daughter can undergo an innovative cancer treatment in Florida.

Niamh Yates was diagnosed with an undifferentiated sarcoma on the base of her spine, a particularly rare form of tumour, in January this year.

Treatment began with a seven-hour emergency operation to prevent what was becoming serious nerve damage to the lower part of her body.

Since then Niamh has had ongoing physiotherapy and a number of cycles of chemotherapy.

The next step is Proton Beam Therapy (PBT), which costs approximately £120,500 and is unavailable in the UK.

It differs from conventional radiotherapy by being more targeted so it minimises damage to surrounding healthy tissue, crucial given the tumour’s proximity to Niamh’s spine.

The NHS will fund the treatment but mum Julie and dad Paul, both 37, along with friends and family, are busy trying to raise funds to ensure Niamh’s trip is as comfortable as possible and also to achieve her dream of swimming with dolphins.

Julie said: “The last six months have been the worst of our lives, an emotional rollercoaster, a bad dream we wish we could just wake up from.

“The impact on the whole family has been catastrophic.

“It’s hard to watch anyone go through chemotherapy and seeing its side effects but when it’s your child or grandchild, it’s the hardest thing in the world. It actually breaks your heart.

“We hope that with the Proton Therapy in America that the end of treatment is now in sight.

“Hopefully it’ll give Niamh the chance to get back to being a normal teenager doing normal teenager things and we can get our lives back.”

The family, which includes six-year-old Conor, lives in Edinburgh but Julie grew up in Alnwick and her parents, Lynda and Seamus Phelan, still live in the town.

And their bid to raise around £17,000 for the trip is well underway with £16,000 already collected online via a gofundme page, and they are set to head stateside this month.

As well as providing little extras on the trip and allowing Niamh to swim with dolphins, the money raised will fund a follow-up visit next year.

Any excess money will be used to start up a charity on their return which will aim to help families who find themselves in the horrible position as the Yates were this year.

And events taking place across north Northumberland look set to boost the fund-raising total.

On Sunday, Jodie Miller, Niamh’s cousin, organised an event at the Coquet Club in Amble.

It raised a mammoth £2,000 through a raffle and coffee morning.

Coming up, on Friday, July 13, a quiz is taking place at Blackmore’s in Alnwick at 7.30pm with a performance from Darren from the X Factor.

Tickets, costing £3.50 each, are available from Blackmore’s or Seamus Phelan on 01665 604044.

Craster Rovers Football Club is holding a sponsored walk from Amble to Craster on Saturday, July 21, and there are further events planned at Alnwick Town Football Club and Alnwick Working Mens Club.

To follow the Yates’ journey, visit their blog – – which also has a link to the gofundme page.

A charity accounty has also been set up – account no. 01325784, sort code 08-91-04.