Dr Eileen Thompson: A tribute to our visionary Founder

We were saddened to learn of the recent passing of LATCH’s founder, Dr Eileen Thompson, whose original vision and guidance was so fundamental to the charity’s establishment back in the early 1980s.

Dr Thompson dedicated her life to the care of children with cancer in Wales. LATCH, and so many of our families are truly indebted to her.

On behalf of LATCH, Philip Price KC, LATCH’s recently retired President pays tribute to Dr Thompson:

In memory of the late Dr Eileen Thompson MBE, MD, FRCP, DCH by Philip Price, KC

How very sad to hear of the death of Eileen Thompson, ‘Dr T’ as we always think of her.

She dedicated her long life to the care of children with cancer in Wales and so many families owe her an incalculable debt of gratitude. She came to Wales from Great Ormond Street Hospital in 1970. There was no specialist cancer treatment centre in Wales. She made childhood cancer her specialty. She proved to be a brilliant doctor and a formidable personality. One measure of her contribution is that the Paediatric Oncology Unit she started became a leading Regional Centre in the UK serving children from most parts of Wales and 25 years later was renamed The Eileen Thompson Unit in her honour. She received the MBE in public recognition of her contribution.

But it was a steep road to climb. When she started, the children with cancer were treated in long, large, open wards at Llandough Hospital with very few resources specific to their needs. They shared the ward with children with all sorts of infectious childhood illnesses. In the 1960s and 1970s most children who developed cancer died. Better understanding of clinical care and new drug regimes transformed that picture over time. None the less it is hard to exaggerate the weight of the professional and emotional burdens that Dr T had to bear. She battled to obtain the facilities needed to provide the best possible treatment and care for the children. The Health Authority recognised the needs but because of the multiplicity of demands could not immediately provide the necessary funds. In addition Dr T had realised how vital it was that the emotional and social needs of the children and their families must be met. So LATCH was born.

In the early 1980s the ‘Llandough LATCH Fund’ was started and Dr T became the co-chairman. Accommodation for parents to stay near the ward, and special sterile isolation rooms for the sickest children, were early achievements and in 1988 a new six-bedded treatment centre opened. A CT Scanner was provided at Llandough which meant sedated children no longer had to be transported across Cardiff for routine scans. These are just some early examples to show how fundamental the needs were and what a difference they made.

Each year an increasing number of children were diagnosed with cancer and leukaemia. So the demands on Dr T increased. She too could be demanding. Parents at clinic were accustomed to being cross-examined on their understanding of their child’s treatment, not just the names of their tablets but also the details of dosages and their frequency for the correct daily care at home. Sometimes she wanted to know how many sprouts he’d had!

LATCH has raised millions of pounds over the years to improve the well-being and futures of these children whose lives are threatened by cancer and leukaemia. Dr T was the inspiration and the driving force behind these achievements. She cared deeply for the children and for making them well. It couldn’t always be done but without fail she gave her all to each child.

She will never be forgotten.

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