Zac and Keech this year’s stars of BBC Children in Need

A schoolboy who has battled a brain tumour and the hospice which helped him have become the stars of BBC Children in Need’s Rocks this week.

Zac Eckworth, 6, received support through music therapy from Keech Hospice Care in Luton to help him come to terms with his illness.  

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Zac’s mum, Miriam, said the help Keech Hospice Care has given her family is life-changing.

“When Zac was at his lowest point he wouldn’t go to school, he was just so overwhelmed by everything that was happening to him. He was a very sad child. Just when we really needed help, Keech’s music therapist Nathan was there.”

Zac was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was just a year old. And despite going through gruelling chemotherapy, the tumour came back bigger only two years later. Although doctors removed as much as they could during surgery, Zac’s eyesight was permanently affected, leaving him with limited vision.

Nathan Vanstone-Howe, whose music therapy work with children at Keech Hospice Care is funded by BBC Children in Need, helped Zac overcome his anxieties and take back control of his life.

“Zac’s very bright and energetic, but when he first came to see me, he was struggling with feeling sick. When we first played music together, Zac pretended to be a monster who wanted to steal all the musical instruments. As we spent more time together however, Zac began to talk about how the monster just wanted to be cared for and felt like Keech was a place of safety to protect him when he was scared of all the hospital admissions and treatment.

“Things became very emotional for Zac when the tumour returned, and I tried to help him find control over his life at a time of chaos. Many of the songs we created involved the ‘monster’, a model of which Zac made and brought to music therapy sessions. He spoke about how people feared the monster because he looked different but was actually friendly and nice, which helped Zac to deal with his feelings about being different to his school-friends.

“Children tend not to have the words to describe how they’re feeling so it’s important to offer them different ways to communicate. Zac benefitted from creatively exploring his worries and was able to leave them behind.”

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Zac, who previously lived in Welwyn Garden City but recently moved to attend a new school which better supports his needs, said making music with Nathan has made him feel happier.

“When I am playing a musical instrument it really takes my mind off all the horrid things I have to think about and I can think about all of the good and relaxing things. It makes me feel free.”

Melissa Blake, Trust and Grants Manager at Keech Hospice Care, said: "We’re incredibly grateful to BBC Children in Need for supporting Keech Hospice Care with this funding. As a charity, we rely on the community to help us raise 70 per cent of the funding for our care services each year, so this money will go a long way towards ensuring our family support workers and music therapist can continue to provide excellent care and support to children and their families when it matters the most.

“As leaders in our field, our excellent standard of care extends to supporting a child’s family, friends, neighbours and colleagues for as long as they need us. We offer emotional and practical support for families across Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes, and our care does not stop at the end of a child’s life. For these families, when it appears nothing will be the same again, Keech Hospice Care is there to help.”

Zac’s story was broadcast on BBC Children in Need Rocks on BBC One on Thursday, 15 November 2018.