There are testing times ahead in Coronation Street for Leanne Battersby (Jane Danson) and Steve McDonald (Simon Gregson) as their son Oliver Battersby is diagnosed with mitochondrial disorder, a rare incurable illness.
The three-year-old has been suffering from mysterious seizures and after a series of tests doctors will confirm he has the condition in upcoming episodes. As Corrie shines a light on a disease rarely tackled on television, what exactly is known about it?
What is mitochondrial disease?
Also known as ‘mito’, the complex condition describes a group of medical disorders that are caused by mutations in mitochondria, tiny organelles present in almost every cell in the body that act as inbuilt ‘power stations’, generating around 90 per cent of the energy we need to stay alive.
Without healthy mitochondria, cells cannot function properly so if they fail there can be serious consequences. To continue the power station analogy, if they cannot produce enough energy, this will lead to ‘blackouts’ in some areas.
How does it affect the body?
People react in different ways, depending on which cells are affected. It can make it hard to diagnose as symptoms are often similar other conditions – as shown in Corrie when Oliver was initially suspected of having epilepsy.
Someone with mitochondrial disease may suffer from seizures, fatigue, cognitive disabilities (as in Oliver’s case), along with vision and hearing loss, respiratory problems or poor growth. Any organs and systems can also be affected including the brain, lungs, heart and liver.
Can it be treated?
Currently there is no cure for this life-threatening illness. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms such as seizures with medication. In some cases doctors can also try to ensure the body’s energy production is more efficient using vitamins. Diet and avoiding stress can also possibly help in some cases, depending on which parts of the body are affected.
Will Oliver die from the disease?
This is set to be a long-running storyline and we are only just at the beginning, but whatever happens it’s set to be extremely emotional for Oliver’s parents and their families. Corrie producer Iain MacLeod says: “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.
“We want 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.”
The soap has worked closely with charity the Lily Foundation who fund research into the disease, including the search for a cure, and support families who have experienced it. The organisation was formed by Liz Curtis in 2007 in memory of her daughter Lily, who died from the illness at just eight months old.
“It was harrowing hearing the story of what happened to Lily,” says Danson. “But also amazing to hear how people come through this, support each other and learn to live again. I was bowled over by her bravery, she shared with me how she felt emotionally, how she got through her days and how people rallied around her. I’ve had many storylines as Leanne over the last 20 odd years but this could really break her and feels like the one where I’ve got the most responsibility to get it right.”
For information about the disease and support available, visit www.thelilyfoundation.org.uk.