Monday, April 7, 2014

Heroes and HOPE...

On March 31, 2014, our ten year old son,  Zachary, arrived at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia at about 5:30 am.

First, dad and Zach stopped by his little brother Braden's room in the bone marrow transplant unit. Braden and I were able to give them hugs, kisses, and tell Zach good luck.

Zach and daddy walked down the hallway toward the surgical center.

Zach was carrying more than his backpack filled with his blanket and i-pod touch.

He also carried with him HOPE!

Hope that his cells would carry the cure to a secondary leukemia that his little brother had been diagnosed with that was caused by the treatments to put him in a remission from his first two cancer battles with neuroblastoma.

His odds of five year survival after his neuroblastoma relapsed were less than 10%. He was in year 3 of that battle and his neuroblastoma remained in remission.

As horrific as those odds were, this new secondary leukemia was even worse. His teams in Philly and Kansas City had never seen a child beat this particular form of MDS after battling neuroblastoma.


A bone marrow transplant was Braden's only HOPE for a cure, and an end to cancer forever. Braden's bone marrow would be killed off by high dose chemotherapy and then donor cells would be transfused into his body to try to replace his bone marrow with healthy cells that could take over and kill any remaining cells the chemo missed, and keep a vigilant watch in his body and destroy any future cancer invaders.

After an exhausting search for a bone marrow donor, there was only one match. And that match was a perfect match.

His ten year old brother, Zach.

We talked to Zach about his donation and we were very honest with him about what could happen. When a stranger donates cells, they do not meet their match until one year post transplant.

There is a very good reason.

The odds are very high that the transplant won't work and it's really tough for donors to know that their cells failed to save the person's life.

Zach is well aware of this.  He knows that his cells may not save Braden but that his cells are the only chance Braden has to live.

Without those cells, Braden would die.

And that is a lot to deal with as a ten year old brother.

Zach is very frightened of all things medical...especially needles. When he had his flu shot this year, it took several nurses and a long time. At one point he said, "Everybody just hold on for a minute! I need to breathe because I have a very big problem with large needles near my body"!

Zach faced his fears of needles and procedures. He faced his fears about "what if" and he donated his cells during a 2.5 hour procedure in which the oncologist harvested about 837 ml of bone marrow cells from Zach's back/hip.

It took about 50-75 cores of bone drilled from his body to do that. It is very painful after the procedure but Zach was tough.

After recover, Zach was able to come back to Braden's room and they were side by side while the cells were transfused into Braden's body.  A hospital clergy said a prayer and blessed the cells as they went in and after Zach said,

"that prayer proved that I was chosen for this by God mom!"

It takes a very special person to be chosen by God to try to save your brother's life. We don't know if it will work, but the most important thing is that Zach was willing to try.




The night before the procedure, we named Zach's cells "Z-Force" because Zach is into all things military and his cells are like a Special Ops Battalion going into destroy the bad cells, take over, and keep watch for a lifetime and immediately destroy any insurgents. A pretty big job for any Special Ops unit...but Zach is special because his cells are super charged with LOVE and HOPE!

As the cells were transfused into Braden's body, someone noticed that the tubes actually made a heart shape.

An unplanned sign.

We expected Zach's cells to begin to engraft in Braden's body around 13-14 days after the transfusion. Today is day 7...

and they are already starting to engraft.

We still have a very long road ahead...they must engraft fully, remain engrafted, not cause extremely detrimental graft vs host disease, and keep the cancer away forever...

a long road indeed...

but it is possible...

and we are hopeful...

and I stand in awe of my two brave sons.

One the donor, one the recipient...

a perfect match.

HOPE!  For both of my heroes!