Hope and Healing: Doctors, Blood Donors and Family All Play a Part in Infant's Treatment
February 2004 — When 11-month-old Harrison suddenly developed a low-grade fever and became cranky, tearful and unhappy, Beth-Ann and Peter thought their son was experiencing routine teething. They took Harrison to his pediatrician, and he was treated for an ear infection.
The ear infection cleared up, but the fever and crankiness persisted so the family returned to the pediatrician. With the results from a routine blood test, "we went from teething to leukemia," says Peter.
Lynn Meister, MD, a pediatric oncologist on the medical staff at Memorial Regional Hospital, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital and Memorial Hospital West, confirmed the diagnosis later that day: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), or cancer of the white blood cells responsible for fighting infections. According to Harrison's parents, Dr. Meister was incredibly empathetic; she knew just what to say and how to say it. This was their first impression of the care they could expect from the cancer specialists at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital
"We asked for second opinions and were amazed that the doctors had already taken steps to obtain them," says Beth-Ann. "Everyone worked to help us understand exactly what was happening and what our options were."
Help from the Hospital and the Community
Now 21 months old, Harrison is currently undergoing an aggressive, 47-week treatment protocol that calls for intensive chemotherapy, blood transfusions and frequent hospitalization. It also requires that Harrison be protected from germs "unfamiliar" to his system.
"We've received tremendous support from the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, our temple, my law firm, our friends and the community," says Beth-Ann. "Harrison's blood type is B-positive, which is shared by only 10 percent of Americans. The first time Harrison needed blood, there wasn't an adequate supply and it had to be flown in from Ohio."
So that they would not have to face that situation again, Beth-Ann and Peter compiled a list of people who can be called upon to donate each time Harrison undergoes chemotherapy. "People aren't always aware of the importance of donating blood," says Beth-Ann. "When they say, 'Give the gift of life', that is what it does. It gives my baby life."
Taking Every Precaution
"We have to take extreme precautions against infection," says Beth-Ann. "We don't go out as a family of five anymore. Harrison's brothers, 6-year-old Spencer and 8-year-old Brendan, change their clothes and wash their hands in the garage when they come home from school. We don't even wear shoes in the house. The risk of infection is just too great."
At the same time, Beth-Ann and Peter are doing everything they can to enjoy a normal family life. At all times, one parent is with Harrison while the other is home with the other boys, participating in everyday activities like homework, meals and school events.
As much as Harrison's illness has brought the family closer together, some days are extremely difficult. When he's feeling discouraged, Peter is reminded of a saying on a refrigerator magnet that reads, "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says 'I'll try again tomorrow.'"
Reasons to Be Thankful
Beth-Ann and Peter are particularly grateful to have all the expertise that Harrison might need at one facility, as well as for the dedication of the medical team. "We know that these doctors love our son," says Beth-Ann. The family also appreciates the community's support in donating lifesaving blood.
And in spite of the challenging circumstances, they are thankful that Harrison is too young to truly understand what he's going through, that recent bone marrow tests show no signs of cancer and that the end is in sight for Harrison's treatment.
"We've put our lives on hold and will pick up where we left off later," says Beth-Ann. "Somehow we know this is survivable."