Coronation Street’s Oliver Battersby diagnosed with life-threatening illness

Leanne and Steve will receive devastating news when their three-year-old son Oliver is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

Oliver was rushed to hospital last month after having a seizure, which doctors put down to a febrile convulsion – a type of fit common in children who are running a fever. There are usually no long-term adverse effects from febrile convulsions with most infants returning to normal soon afterwards.

Sadly, for Steve (Simon Gregson) and Leanne (Jane Danson), Oliver’s condition is much more serious with another seizure this week leading to a diagnosis of a Mitochondrial disorder.

“This is a story about a family coming to terms with the most difficult news anyone can face and the ways in which this strengthens and shatters relationships in unpredictable ways. Above all, we wanted to do justice to the stories of the many thousands of families who have to deal with diagnoses similar to Oliver’s, be it a mitochondrial disorder or another life-limiting condition. It is something that, as a society, we find difficult to talk about but which is all too common. The taboo around these illnesses can mean awareness is low, which means funding for research is low. Aside from telling a brilliant, moving and emotionally complex story, we really hope to draw attention to this subject to change this situation for the better.” – Iain MacLeod, Coronation Street producer

Mitochondrial disease – or ‘mito’ – is the term given to a group of disorders caused by mutations in mitochondria, the tiny organelles that are present in nearly every cell in our bodies and which generate about 90% of the energy we need to live.

Cells cannot function properly without healthy mitochondria, so when they fail the consequences can be serious and wide-ranging. Mitochondrial diseases affect people in multiple ways, depending on which cells are affected. This can make the condition hard to diagnose, as symptoms often resemble those of other serious illnesses.

The team at Coronation Street researched the storyline thoroughly before committing to script, working with The Lily Foundation charity which funds research into mitochondrial disease. The long-running ITV soap also sought the advice of professor Robert McFarland from the Wellcome Centre for Mitochondrial Research in Newcastle.

“All of us at The Lily Foundation are excited to be working with Coronation Street on a storyline about a child with a mitochondrial disorder, and grateful to the show for highlighting an issue that affects hundreds of families in the UK.” – Liz Curtis, CEO and co-founder of The Lily Foundation

In the months to come Leanne and Steve will be forced to come to terms with the heartbreaking diagnosis which will leave Oliver with a life limiting illness for which there is currently no cure.

“We’ve worked closely with Liz Curtis at The Lily Foundation. It was harrowing hearing the story of what happened to her daughter Lily but also really amazing to hear how people come through this, how they support each other and learn to live again. I’ve also read a lot of literature about how families cope around their children’s diagnosis with life limiting illnesses, looking at the human elements to their stories amidst all the medical speak and hoping I can get it right. It is quite overwhelming, I’ve been so lucky to have so many stories with Leanne over the last 20 odd years but this one feels different, this one could really break her and it feels like it’s the one where I’ve got the most responsibility to get it right.” – Jane Danson

Professor Robert McFarland praised Coronation Street for tackling the storyline noting that “the attention that this focus brings on rare, inherited and life-limiting conditions is not only welcome, but vital, if we are to succeed in supporting individuals and their families and to find effective treatments.”

If you are affected or are living with someone who has a mitochondrial disease, for information about the disease and the support available please visit www.thelilyfoundation.org.uk

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