Callahan was born in April 2021. After a difficult and traumatizing birth, he went to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The NICU at his birth hospital quickly determined that there was a malignancy in his blood, and he was immediately transferred to Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Within 24 hours, he was diagnosed with Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Childhood ALL is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow and is the most common form of cancer in children. About 3,000 children and teens are diagnosed with ALL each year in the United States. Infant ALL is rare, with only about 90 cases occurring in children one or younger each year.
Callahan’s parents, Kate and Matt, remember being told about the diagnosis.
“You don't see that coming after birth,” Kate says. “A lot goes through your mind, and I think at first, I was just in complete shock. Honestly, I thought, okay... I remember pediatric leukemia having a pretty positive and favorable outcome. So even though I was scared, I felt like we had a lot of hope. We were in a children's hospital, and we were in a good place for an action plan.”
After meeting with Callahan’s doctor, they started working through a treatment plan. They discovered Callahan had a genetic change that occurs in about 80% of infant ALL cases, which makes the outcomes more unfavorable and treatment more challenging.
Treatment became their entire focus, but they tried to keep life as normal as possible for their family. They were told from the very beginning that this would be a marathon, not a sprint. Callahan received cancer treatment (chemotherapy) right away and because he was in the hospital for such a long period of time, the family felt as if they lived there. After eight months, he was finally able to go home. Although his current maintenance therapies are much easier than the first eight months of treatment, Callahan still deals with some side effects of the chemotherapy, including vocal cord paralysis. This has made feeding and swallowing difficult for Callahan and he currently receives therapy and treatment for these issues.
Today, Callahan is doing well, and his doctors expect he only has about six months of treatment left. He is currently on oral chemotherapy and takes a few other medicines to treat side effects. As long as he stays on this current path, and maintains remission over the next six months, he should be finished with treatment.
Both Kate and Matt feel they were so incredibly lucky from day one.
“I don't know why things happen, but I remember thinking, I can't believe that we have one of the best children's hospitals - literally five miles away,” says Kathleen. “And as scared as I was, I felt so much comfort. All the doctors and nurses are like our second family. They care so much.”
Kate and Matt also know that, although a cancer diagnosis can occur in a matter of moments, the development of cancer treatments takes years. Without funding, progress can’t be made. When Callahan was diagnosed, they were told there just weren’t a lot of options for treatment. That’s largely due to the lack of federal funding for pediatric cancer research. This holiday season, when you donate to Nationwide Children’s, you will light up the hospital lawn with glowing butterflies for patients to see and in doing so, light up their life. Help put a light on research for projects like Callahan’s and for children everywhere this holiday season.