Edinburgh teen's leg ache on way home led to devastating double diagnosis

three women with pink balloons shaped in number 18.
-Credit: (Image: Emily Kyles)

An Edinburgh teen has recalled the moment she went to A&E one day for a sore leg and ended up with a shocking diagnosis of sepsis and leukaemia.

Emily Kyles, 18, from Liberton, had been extremely tired for a few months but put it down to finishing her sixth year of high school and impending exams. One day in May 2023, her leg ached when walking home from school and she ended up staying in bed for three days as the pain got worse.

She spoke to her GP who put it down to a virus. But as the agony intensified, she was advised to go to A&E.

Blood tests revealed abnormalities and after a subsequent CT scan and X-ray, Emily was moved from the Royal Infirmary's A&E after 11 hours to the acute medical unit.

Shocked Emily was then told at 5.30am she not only had a blood infection but also the blood cancer leukaemia.

Emily spoke about her time waiting in the hospital that night. She said: "Machines kept going off and beeping constantly as my blood pressure kept dropping. People were coming in every ten minutes to do my observations."

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On being told of the heart-breaking diagnosis, she said: "For me, it just didn't click with me what they were saying. I just said 'okay'. I was so unwell at that point. My mum instantly broke into tears and had to go and phone my dad."

a teenager with her mum outside
Emily and her mum Amy -Credit:Emily Kyles

She added: "I'm not sure if I hadn't had the sepsis, we don't know when or if I'd have been diagnosed with the leukaemia."

When looking back, Emily said along with the tiredness and leg pain, she also had bruises everywhere which is a common symptom of leukaemia. She said: "Looking back at the pictures in the months before, I did look ill. But no one clocked then."

Emily was 17 at the time and had been planned on going on her first holiday abroad with her friends. She also had a place at Queen Margaret University to train as a primary school teacher.

But her diagnosis scuppered those plans. After going into hospital on May 5 last year, it would be October before she was sent home.

The blood infection turned out to be sepsis and Emily had to be put in a medically induced coma for a few days. After eight days, she was moved from intensive care in the adult's ward to the Sick Kids to be treated for the cancer.

Her CT scan surprised a lot of people working in the radiography department. Emily recalled: "They remember me from my scan - before they had even met me. A lot of them saw it. They were surprised that I'm here now after seeing it. The infection was in my whole body."

The sepsis had been so severe, her organs had started to shut down. Despite being weak from the infection, Emily then had to start chemotherapy straight away. She was unable to walk or even hold her phone. From going into A&E, It took Emily five months before she could walk again.

She said: "Because of the sepsis, I basically had to learn everything again. I couldn't lift my arms, I couldn't lift up my leg, I couldn't even lift up my head. I got hoisted about.

"Because I couldn't walk, I got hoisted into a wheelchair and they would take me into the garden of the children's ward. It was amazing, just to get fresh air and feel the sun. When I was allowed out at first, I had been inside for one month."

Emily praised her parents for their strength. She said: "I would not have been as strong as they were. they were there every single day, they'd swap over and take turns to stay with me. They didn't show they were sad at all."

two schoolgirls posing
Kirsty and Emily at school -Credit:Emily Kyles

She added: "My best friend Kirsty came every single day also. We worked together in Tortilla, and they let her take a few months off so she could spend time with me as much as she could."

Emily missed her younger siblings during her time in hospital - Olivia, 16, and Lewis, 13. She got to go home in October 2023, the same month she turned 18. Then in December Emily had to have a bone marrow transplant. She stayed in Glasgow after the treatment over Christmas and New Year and returned home in January.

Emily now plans to resurrect her holiday plans as soon as possible - though has to stay in the UK for about a year after her stem cell transplant due to her poor immune system. She said: "You have to start all over again - it's like the immune system of a baby.

"I am currently cancer-fee and they assume it's to continue to go that way. They do a bone marrow aspirate and that's where they would find the cancer if there is any."

Emily is fundraising for the children's cancer ward at Sick Kids, the Lochranza ward, where she spent six months. You can find more information and donate here.

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