‘He said those three words to me. That’s the last thing I ever heard him say.’ Dad Damian McKenna’s heartbreaking account of the day he lost nine-year-old son Kaden to leukaemia
09:16 11 January 2016
Faced with a potentially terminal illness anyone would find it hard to remain composed through the pain, treatment and countless days in hospital.
But Kaden McKenna, who was told he had leukaemia on December 1, remained kind, selfless and generous throughout.
Tragically the nine-year-old from Ipswich died in Addenbrooke’s Hospital last Thursday – just five weeks after being diagnosed.
His final act of giving will not go incomplete though after his family vowed to finish his fundraising for the hospital.
Proud dad Damian McKenna, aged 39, explained how, despite his own desperate situation, the Ravenswood Community Primary School pupil still wanted to help others after reading a book explaining his condition.
“He read this book to me and I was in bits but he wasn’t phased by it,” Mr McKenna, a welder said. “He said one of the side effects is he would lose his hair.
“He said to the doctor: ‘Would it be better if I shaved it off early and did a sponsor form and gave all the money to Addenbrooke’s?’”
Kaden was going to personally hand over the money raised by shaving his head, which he completed last weekend, to the hospital’s oncology and haematology ward which cares for children receiving chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
His family will now collect the outstanding pledges and give it to the hospital on his behalf.
Mr McKenna who lives with Kaden’s mother Janine Bree, 34, and his siblings Leray, 15, Shay, three, and nine-month-old Taylyn, said the emergence of black bruises on his son was the first sign something was wrong.
“The first thing that came into my head was he was being bullied but he was so popular at school,” he explained. “He assured me it wasn’t bullying so we took him to the hospital.”
It was at Ipswich Hospital they received the news, Kaden being swiftly transferred to Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge for treatment by steroids and chemotherapy.
Normally inseparable from brother Shay, Kaden spent several weeks in the hospital before being allowed home for Christmas – but insisted he get presents for the children he was leaving behind on the ward who were not so lucky.
Back at Ipswich Hospital and despite appearing to be coping well things took a tragic turn just days into the New Year.
Kaden became ill and his parents rushed to his bedside where he was being given oxygen through a mask.
How you can donate in Kaden’s memory
So far £400 has been raised by Kaden’s sponsored head shave, all of which will go to the unit which cared for him at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.
It was shortly after he first arrived there the nine-year-old decided he wanted to raise money for it.
“As soon as I got home the first thing he wanted me to do was make a sponsorship form,” said dad Damian.
The shave was done shortly after Kaden’s hair showed signs of falling out when he began receiving chemotherapy for leukaemia. But he had some fun beforehand.
“We were laughing about it because he was doing stupid hairstyles before it all came off, like Kaden at 65,” Mr McKenna added.
“For us not to carry it (the fundraising) on would be wrong.
All the sponsor forms I handed out are all worded that he will hand the cheque to Addenbrooke’s but half the people who have them don’t know he’s died yet.”
You can donate money by visiting https://crowdfunding.justgiving.com/damian-mckenna.
Mr McKenna said: “He was mumbling under the mask so I pulled it off and he said those three words to me. That’s the last thing I ever heard him say.”
A specialist team from Great Ormond Street Hospital rushed Kaden back to Addenbrooke’s but despite the best efforts of its staff he died on Thursday morning.
Miss Bree spoke of he pride in Kaden, saying she had lost her “handsome son” who would “be greatly missed”, and Mr McKenna added: “He didn’t once complain, he didn’t get upset.
“We were always together. We always walked the dog on the shores under the Orwell Bridge.
“He was into everything I was into, bikes and cars.
“I have had motorbikes for the last 17 years and last year I got him all the bike stuff and he came on the back of the bike with me.
“I put that video on YouTube and he went to school and told all his mates about it and they played it in front of the class.
“He’s got so many friends at school. There’s not one person who could say a bad word against him.
“He was my best friend and is a massive part of all our lives that cannot be replaced.”
A constant reminder to Kaden’s family of his kindness during his short life was the help he gave to 15-year-old sister Leray.
The teenager has cerebral palsy and spends most of her time in a wheelchair communicating non-verbally.
Mr McKenna said: “It’s only now in the last few days we realise how much he did for her. He’d feed her dinner and take her out.”
He also said when offered the chance to take a reward from the children’s bravery box at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, where he was treated, for having a cannula inserted into his arm Kaden at first refused, saying the treats should be given to children who struggled more.
When persuaded to take something he did – but gave it to his three-year-old brother Shay.
Robert Hamilton, Kaden’s form tutor at Ravenswood, said: “We will always remember Kaden for being a great friend and person to be around.
“He was really funny, respectful, brave, adventurous and one of the nicest boys we have ever had the privilege to be with.
“He will be very sadly missed by all of us at the school.”