Thirteen-year-old Freya Haynes, from Wolverhampton, joined staff at Birmingham Children’s Hospital to celebrate hitting the £1m milestone in its £1.5m iMRI Appeal, to bring an intraoperative MRI scanner to the hospital to transform brain surgery. This milestone comes as work begins on the new building where the intraoperative scanner will be located, and Freya was there to help break ground in a special ceremony. 

Birmingham Children’s Hospital is home to one of the largest paediatric neurosurgical centres in the UK, but it is the only one without an iMRI scanner. The charity’s £1.5m iMRI Appeal will bring this state-of-the-art technology to patients, like Freya, for the first time. 

Currently, the hospital’s expert neurosurgeons rely on pre-operative images to plan an operation. However, during surgery, the brain, which is soft, will change shape. This means, very quickly, the pre-operative information becomes outdated, making it less reliable.     

By making an MRI intraoperative this means the MRI scanner is moved directly to the patient on an operating table, or the patient to the scanner, to ensure surgeons can obtain ‘live’ information about the position of the tumour right when they need it the most.   

It’s something Freya Haynes would have benefitted from when she received life-changing brain surgery three years ago, aged 10. Her dance teacher noticed Freya’s right arm was shaking and she was struggling with some of the positions. When Freya’s handwriting in school also began to suffer, her parents took her to her GP. Investigations at her local hospital diagnosed a brain tumour and a cyst. The cyst, which was attached to the tumour, was putting pressure on the left part of her brain, which controls the righthand side of her body.  

Freya was transferred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital for an operation to remove the tumour. Her parents, Nikki and Alex, waited anxiously during her seven-hour surgery, while brother Finley, 15, waited at school, but as the clock struck 4pm – the time she was expected back from theatre there was no sign of her. Her parents were incredibly worried  

As part of her surgery, Freya was taken two floors below the operating theatre to have a follow-up scan of her brain to assess if all the tumour had been removed, meaning she was under general anaesthetic for a further two hours. Unfortunately, a small piece of tumour, deep in her brain, remained. Because her head had already been closed, the surgeons decided to wake Freya up and not re-open the wound for an immediate ‘re-look’. Thankfully, the tumour turned out to be a benign, but if the hospital had had the leading-edge intraoperative MRI (iMRI) technology, they could have immediately revisited the area in theatre and checked if it was removable. 

Nikki Haynes, Freya’s mum, said: “It was a painfully slow wait for us, but as the hours mounted and she still wasn’t back from theatre, we really started to worry.  

Following surgery, we were relieved to hear the remaining brain tumour was benign, but you’re never fully at ease knowing a little bit of tumour remains. Over the past three years, Freya has had multiple scans and check-ups, and there’s thankfully been no growth, which is such a relief. I don’t know how we’d cope if she had to have the operation again  

Bringing iMRI technology to the hospital is so important and our family has done our bit in fundraising for the appeal. Having the scanner would have meant that during the surgery the doctors could have assessed if the remaining tumour was removeable and taken it out there and then. Or, at the very least, it would have meant she was back with us sooner. 

“It’s been an honour to be part of the ground-breaking ceremony as we know first-hand the difference the iMRI scanner would have made to us and Freya.” 

Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity launched its £1.5m iMRI Appeal in March and just six months later, it has reached the £1m mark thanks to the wonderful efforts of the public, businesses and philanthropic organisations, which have all put their full support behind the appeal.  

Mark Brider, Chief Executive of Birmingham Children’s Hospital Charity, said: “We’re so thankful to have already hit the £1m milestone and now have just £500,000 left to raise before we can purchase this life-changing technology. To have raised £1m in just six months is testament to the incredible efforts of everyone who has fundraised for the appeal or donated.  

We are very proud to be supporting our work-class children’s hospital and fundraising for technology like the iMRI scanner, which allows us to offer the highest levels of treatment to our brain surgery patients. I would encourage everyone to continue their support so we can achieve our target and purchase this new technology for our hospital. 

The momentous milestone of £1m raised comes as contractors, Graham, broke ground on the new three-story building, which will house the iMRI, with the help of Freya.   

Ronan Hughes, Regional Director, Graham Group, commented: "Graham has an excellent track record in delivering first class healthcare facilities across the UK and we're immensely proud to be involved in this state of the art development for Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust. Huge congratulations to the hospital charity for reaching its £1m fundraising milestone."