Childhood Leukemia Story - Jason - 07 - City of Hope

Jason Story of Child LeukemiaCITY OF HOPE

It was October 22nd when we drove onto the grounds of the City of Hope National Medical Center. We were pleasantly surprised to find the atmosphere so restful. The long driveway was lined with palms and a huge expanse of flawlessly manicured lawn stretched out beyond. There were rose gardens and waterfalls on the right and a large parking lot on the left. The children thought the little tram that ran between the parking lot and the hospital was wonderful — “just like Disneyland.”
In front of the main building was a big fountain with a statue of a father, mother and baby. Just to the left was a large building under construction. To the right was the pediatric building and behind all this, reaching back almost 90 acres, were areas for research. We felt immediately that we would like this new place, so different from Boston, yet so receptive to us strangers.
Since opening its doors over 70 years ago, the City of Hope National Medical Center has never turned away anyone for financial reasons. Although insurance companies are billed for the services provided by the Medical Center, individuals who cannot pay are not billed. Many fund-raisers as well as private donations support this great institution. Over 300 bone marrow transplants had been performed inside its walls and the rate of success was close to 50%. Almost all the patients were cancer victims or suffered from some other equally catastrophic illness.
The first day was for preliminary tests. The following day would be admission day and there were things that could be done in advance to make that easier. Jason and MaryEllen were the only ones that were needed but with no baby sitter we decided we would all go. Jason had an EKG, CAT scan, chest x-ray, spinal tap and bone marrow aspiration as well as the usual blood work. While these tests were not fun, he was having no problem at all compared to his dear little sister.
The trouble began with the blood work. The nurses had been told to get at least 20 cc’s from her. After three or four attempts they were still getting nowhere. Her little vein would yield 4 or 5 cc’s then shut down. Of course this had her screaming and fighting. She did not like these ladies who kept smiling at her and then stabbing her with needles. Finally, after the chief blood technician had been called in, it was decided to try entering her jugular vein. They wrapped her tightly, as though in a cocoon, and, suggesting that I leave the room, they tipped her upside down. As I closed the door I shut my eyes but my ears would not close. She screamed until she lost her breath. Then, as quick as a wink, it was over.
We proceeded to the EKG department. My poor baby, with a bandage on her neck, was falling asleep and woke just enough to fidget while the bands were put on her arms and legs. The EKG went fairly well except for the fact that she was still sighing heavily from crying and the lines kept jumping around. By the time her tests were completed I was feeling worn out.
We still had a meeting with the pediatrician who would be treating Jason and with the doctors who headed the Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit. Dr. Foreman gave us a tour of the BMT floor and showed us the room that was soon to be Jason’s. As we walked along he talked about the patients. There were no other children in the ward now but earlier we had met a little boy who was due in at the end of the month. We discussed the severity of the procedure and the fact that less than half of these rooms would be the stepping stone to health. Looking into the faces of these folks made that difficult to accept. Half of them would never leave. In which half would our Jason fit?
Dr. Foreman told us, “Any odds are 100% better than none.
Why can’t Jason be that one-in-ten success story?”
While the children watched cartoons in the waiting area, we met with Dr. Krance in the adjoining physician’s lounge. He was nice in his own way but vastly different from our beloved Dr. Truman. His face showed little expression until he smiled. Then he was actually handsome. His thick mustache almost covered his mouth; maybe that made it hard to see his expression. We would soon become accustomed to his mannerisms. It was easy to tell that he knew what he was talking about, even if he showed little emotion.
The results of the bone marrow came back and Dr. Krance reported that it did not look good. For a minute we weren’t sure we were hearing right. Dr. Truman would have said, “I have bad news.” We stopped him, wanting to be sure we understood him.
“Do you mean there are leukemia cells present?”
“Yes, Jason is not disease-free but the relapse is just beginning so it could be worse.”
Our immediate concern was whether or not the transplant
was still on. The thought of our having traveled all that way for radiation department for some measurements, he was free to go out with us until bedtime. The next day was much the same except that, when we went to the airport in the evening to pick up Mom and Dad Vitale, Jason was able to come with us. What a surprise for Grammy and Grampy! They arrived at a perfect time.
On Friday, Jason went into the operating room to have a Hickman Line inserted. We usually called this a catheter, as that was basically what it was. By placing a tube into a vein in the chest and leaving one end protruding from a small hole, the need for intravenous needles was eliminated. Jason sailed through this and, other than being a bit sore, felt fine.