Meet Our Hematology, Oncology and BMT Patients :: Nationwide Children's Hospital

Patient Stories

At Nationwide Children's Hospital, we realize that emotional support is every bit as important as medical treatment. That’s why we want you to meet some of our patients, who, like you, are dealing with the daily challenges of a blood or cancer condition.

Meet Sully

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

It was a warm May afternoon when the Brooks family was driving home from a visit to grandma’s house. Megan peered in the back seat to check on her daughter, 7 month-old Harper and son, three and half year-old Sully.  Beneath the mop of blond hair, the little boy’s face was pale, and his big blue eyes, usually snapping with mischief were dull. Sensing something was wrong, Megan and her husband Zach drove straight to the doctor’s office.

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There, the physician drew blood to confirm an initial diagnosis of mumps, and the family went home so Sully could sleep it off. The pediatrician called late that evening and said Sully had to be taken immediately to the emergency room at Nationwide Children’s Hospital – Sully’s blood tests revealed that he had leukemia. Within just 36 hours, Sully was receiving his first of what would be several rounds of chemotherapy.
“Everything really stopped on that day. I think the shocking part is when all your plans, your ‘normal’ is suddenly taken away,” recalls Zach. “It’s abrupt and you realize it’s going to change everything for years.”
Sully was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), one of the most common of all childhood cancers. The disease disrupts the production of normal white blood cells, and the treatment renders children susceptible to even the mildest infection. ALL can progress rapidly and is fatal without treatment. Sully’s case was particularly dire because tests revealed that the cancer had spread to his spinal fluid.  
As a national clearinghouse for storing and studying millions of childhood cancer cells, Nationwide Children’s provided Sully with a customized treatment regimen based on his cancer type.  The therapy – which will occur over three and a half years - includes a combination of oral chemotherapy, IV chemotherapy, chemotherapy shots, chemotherapy into the spinal fluid and radiation.
“Sully doesn’t even know he has cancer. That will be a part of his story someday, but right now he doesn’t understand it. He knows he’s sick. He knows the injections give his tumor ‘a drink.’  He knows he’s loved,” says Megan.
With remarkable resilience, his parents have insisted on keeping the mood positive during the treatments where Sully must stay in the hospital for days. Hospital policy dictates that visitors must know a secret password before they can call on patients. The Brooks have decided to use passwords that have the kind of gross-out funny factor that only a four year old – and a staff who is used to working with four year olds - can truly appreciate.
“Nationwide Children’s lives up to its reputation. All of the nurses are fantastic, every single one of them. They’re the most amazing team of doctors who you know will absolutely not let anything happen to Sully on their watch,” says Zach.
Sully has responded well to initial treatment, and today his leukemia is in remission. He loves to read out loud to anyone who will listen – including reciting books while going to the bathroom, and a never ending dialogue that may include tattling on himself, or his baby sister. It’s hard for Sully’s parents to believe he still has two more years of chemotherapy to endure – and that there are thousands more children just like him.
“I had no idea how many children were getting cancer – and how terribly underfunded pediatric cancer research is. I know it’s a small number of kids who get cancer compared to adults. Some of these kids getting cancer are just two. Sully hasn’t even gotten to ride a bike,” says Megan.
Inspired to help raise awareness for pediatric cancer and tell Sully’s story, Megan started a blog and active social media outreach around #teamsully, sharing her family’s experiences with Sully’s diagnosis and treatment. She and Zach are training for a half marathon to raise money for childhood cancer research – something the couple says they couldn’t have imagined either of them doing a year ago.
“When your child has cancer, it makes you able do things you would never have thought possible before,” says Zach. “These kids need attention.  They need arts, crafts, items to distract them from the medical events that they experience.  Donations for these items are valued and can be dropped off at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.  This is a heck of a place to start.”
The frustration in their voices describing the funding situation with pediatric cancers is tangible. So is the joy and optimism when they talk about how Sully, who they describe as both a sweetheart and a ‘crazy pants’  will finish chemotherapy when he is six and a half – and hopefully, never have to worry about cancer again.
But Sully, busy basking in the happiness of being home with his family, isn’t thinking about being sick.
“I am not a sweetheart,” he insists. “But, yeah. I am a crazy pants.”

Meet Lauren

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

At first, the clues were small that ten year-old Lauren Cunningham was battling something more than the viral sinus infection suspected by her pediatrician. Intermittent facial pain. A sluggish swing of the softball bat. Longer naps. Nausea. Then one morning, Lauren woke up with her left eye inexplicably turned inward. An MRI at the local emergency room revealed a possible tumor in her brain. But the ER doctors said that wasn’t all – Lauren also had leukemia. 
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Lauren was rushed to Nationwide Children’s Hospital by ambulance. There, physicians discovered that Lauren had so many leukemia cells in her blood that she was at risk of kidney and lung failure if she did not receive treatment quickly.  In order to receive this treatment safely, she had to be put on a ventilator and placed in a medically induced coma for several days.  While she was in this coma, machines removed some of the leukemia cells and kidney-harming chemicals released by the leukemia cells from her blood.  Once these treatments were complete, and while still on the ventilator, chemotherapy was started. The “brain tumor” turned out to be multiple small patches of blood that had settled on her brain, causing facial symptoms that looked very similar to a stroke.

“They said ninety percent of her white blood cells were leukemia cells, that she was very sick and might not make it,” says mother Mariah. “It was such a helpless feeling, but we were immediately supported by a team of doctors, nurses, clergy, social workers, therapists – everyone was totally focused on helping Lauren and helping us. Without a doubt, the doctors at Nationwide Children’s saved Lauren’s life that day.”

Watch Lauren's home video: A look inside what's it's like to be a child fighting cancer

Lauren was ultimately diagnosed with T Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), a rare type of leukemia with much lower survival rates compared to more commonly found types of ALL. She immediately started a grueling regimen of chemotherapy, and suffered many of the typical side effects like hair loss, fevers and constant nausea. 
Never one to shy away from a moment to talk to people, Lauren created video diaries to chronicle what it’s like to be a ten year-old with cancer. What it’s like to take multiple medications, to shave her head when there’s not enough hair left, to throw up in the car on the way to an appointment, to curl up whimpering in a soft pink blanket because she feels so sick.
On camera, she is matter-of-fact, cheerful. She can also look straight in the lens and unabashedly say, “Donate so that kids like me can get treatment. So that kids like me don’t die.” 
Like many other children with leukemia, Lauren’s life was most at risk during the first few weeks of her diagnosis and treatment, but – also like many other children with leukemia – the rest of her course has not been smooth sailing. A seizure, likely from damage caused by the bleeding in her brain, required another trip to the ICU, though fortunately a brief one this time around. Lauren recovered, and pushed on, charming everyone around her every chance she got.  In one instant, she can be chattering happily with the staff about doing crafts with the art therapist, getting a massage, or playing with dolls – and in the next instant, expressing a wry sense of humor and resilience more typically found in someone twice her age.
“Without missing a beat, after getting sick she’ll say:  ‘Phew, that wasn't what I was expecting' or ‘Gosh, we forgot to brush my hair today’ even though she lost her long curls to chemo early on,” says Mariah. 
Lauren will be receiving chemotherapy for at least the next year and a half. Her leukemia cells were collected and stored as part of a large “bank” of cancer cells, which will allow doctors to better understand why normal cells become leukemia cells and study ways to better treat leukemia like Lauren’s.  
“She’s absolutely amazing. She’s lost all of her hair. Her face is swollen from the medications she is on. She has suffered some nerve damage from the chemotherapy and needs help walking,” says her oncologist, Dr. Susan Vear.  “But she can be in pain from her chemotherapy shots one minute and quizzing you on when she can go back to dance and softball the next.”
Lauren is also the face of the 2015 “Give Hope” national fundraising campaign launched by Justice clothing stores. Her picture and thousand-watt smile was featured in more than 1,000 retail store locations across the nation, encouraging people to donate money to help fund childhood cancer research. 
Lauren’s experience and strength have also inspired her parents, who have committed to helping other families going through a similar situation, and to finding ways to support research.
“Lauren and other kids with leukemia have a long battle ahead. Research is saving Lauren’s life, but more research is needed,” says John. “Our mission is to continue to provide Lauren with the best possible doctors and treatment to help her beat the leukemia while helping other families and children the way we have been helped.”
When asked about her dreams for the future, of all the things this little girl could wish for, Lauren says, “Raise money for Nationwide Children’s Hospital.” 
But she’s not waiting for the future to come. She’s already started a “Bald is Beautiful” Challenge – asking people to shave their heads or keep their hair for a donation to research. Her hometown has held several “Team Lauren” fundraisers to help her family and others facing childhood cancers. 
 “My advice for kids who have cancer: Bald is Beautiful. Bald. Is. Beautiful.” Lauren says, her eyes disappearing into a smile as big as her heart, her hopes, her dreams.

Meet Faith

Cancer - Cerebral Medullablastoma (Brain Tumor)

Persistent cold and flu symptoms had Faith and her parents making frequent trips to the doctor. After three weeks of various diagnosis and multiple medications, her parents brought her to the hospital where she ended up spending a week undergoing multiple tests, however the tests came back inconclusive. Faith went home and was feeling better for a couple weeks, but then started falling down and bruising very easily and complaining of headaches.

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One day she collapsed at her babysitter’s home and was rushed back to the hospital where an MRI revealed a golf ball sized tumor on her Cerebellum. Doctors had a difficult time finding the words to share this tragic news with Faith’s family. Faith started having seizures and was immediately moved to the intensive care unit. Faith underwent surgery to remove the entire tumor and was moved to the Neurology floor where she spent two weeks recovering. Strength and courage were key in getting Faith through another two weeks on the Rehabilitation floor undergoing extensive therapy. She made it home and the following week started chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation five days a week. Faith finished radiation and had a six week break. Then once a month she was admitted to Nationwide Children’s for intense chemotherapy to fight the cancer. Faith is thrilled to be completing her treatment and having more time to just to be a kid and play with her friends and family.


Meet Brady

Cancer, Synovial Sarcoma

Brady’s life changed forever when an emergency room visit turned into a battle against cancer. What started as a growth under his tongue turned into a same day biopsy resulting in a diagnosis of Synovial Sarcoma. A synovial sarcoma is a rare form of cancer which usually occurs near to the joints of the arm, neck or leg.

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Brady was by far the youngest and only the 14th reported case ever on the tongue. Ten days later Brady underwent a 10-hour surgery when the medical team at Nationwide Children’s had to remove the front two-thirds of his tongue and then "rebuild" it using a tissue graft from his left forearm. At the time of surgery it was hard to determine how extensive his recovery would be, specifically with speech and tongue movement required for eating. Brady beat the odds and made a remarkable recovery. He was talking by two weeks after the surgery. Now it is difficult to tell that he even has a "new tongue." Since surgery he has underwent six rounds of chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Cripe, Dr. Woods and the entire Hematology/Oncology team. Brady is a happy boy who has follow-up visits.


Meet Antionette

Cancer, Sickle Cell Disease

As a baby Antionette and her family were faced with the realization that she had Sickle Cell Disease. Sickle Cell Disease is when blood cells are shaped like a ‘sickle’ causing a lot of daily pain. She has endured countless trips to Nationwide Children’s and has been admitted to the hospital ten times, most recently for almost a month sick with pneumonia.

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A bone marrow transplant typically is a cure for Sickle Cell Disease patients, but you need full siblings for a perfect match. That is not an option for Antionette at this time as she does not have full siblings. Antionette is a young girl who will continue to need daily medication to treat the disease. But she still finds time to do her favorite things draw, make jewelry, play basketball and roller skate!


Meet Ian

Cancer, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML)

Playing hard and aches and pains are normal for young boys. However, Ian had a backache that wouldn’t go away. When a family trip to the circus turned bad when Ian could barely sit in the seat and on the ride home was in tears, his family knew something was not right. His mom took him to his family doctor in Lancaster who thought the pain in his lower back without other symptoms was strange.

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So to rule out possible diagnoses his family doctor sent Ian to Fairfield Medical Center for an X-ray and blood draw. The tests showed Ian's platelets were low and it was recommended they go to Nationwide Children’s right away. By late that night Ian and his parents learned that Ian had leukemia. Ian was immediately admitted to Nationwide Children’s and had surgery and began chemotherapy the very next day. Nationwide Children’s became home for Ian for the next month and a half, undergoing chemotherapy, a lumbar puncture, bone marrow biopsy. Dr. Terry Guinipero and the medical team shared with Ian the AML diagnosis and explained it’s very aggressive, and the prognosis was not as good as for ALL. After hearing the news and the treatment plans, Ian being the fighter that he is said, "I hope it's AML, because then we can just get it over faster, even if it's harder." The weeks ahead were grueling with four rounds of chemotherapy and four to six week stays in the hospital with each round, only leaving the hospital for a few days between each. The beginning of the third round proved exceptionally hard on Ian’s young body as his heart reacted badly to the strong chemo, his blood pressure dropped repeatedly, and he wound up in the ICU for almost a week. That same round, an infection landed Ian back in the ICU with sepsis. The fourth round went a little more smoothly and after countless blood transfusions, antibiotics, fevers, medications, Ian was able to go home. After more blood tests, a biopsy, EKG, Echocardiogram, and his central line removed, Ian was declared cancer free! Ian now tries to rediscover the life of a young boy, and recalls how he felt in the midst of treatment, "I wish we didn't have to be here, but if we do, this is a really great place and everybody is so nice."


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