Stories about: Our Patients’ Stories

Teaghan swims through leukemia treatment


Holding hands, 3-year-old Teaghan Bresnahan and her mom run the length of the lake-front dock. At the dock’s end, Teaghan lets go — and gleefully leaps into the air to land in the water with a satisfying splash.

It may seem a typical summer scene. But for Teaghan, who has been in treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia for over a year, it’s particularly poignant. This type of leukemia usually requires two years of treatment. With the first year of more intense therapy now behind her, Teaghan is feeling better and getting a bit more swim time this summer.

Teaghan had always been healthy — in her first two years, her only sickness was a single ear infection. That’s why her parents, Mandy and James, were surprised at her two-year annual check-up to learn her blood levels were off. A second blood test three days later found her levels had worsened. Her pediatrician suspected a virus. That Sunday, however, Teaghan developed petechiae (small red spots caused by bleeding into the skin) and a fever. Teaghan’s doctor sent them straight to the emergency room. That night, May 3, 2015, Teaghan was diagnosed with leukemia. Treatment at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center started immediately.

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Play ball: Back on the field after catcher’s knee

catchers kneeBrian Burke, a rising senior at Curry College, has been playing baseball for as long as he can remember. He loves his sport and hopes to have a shot at the pros after graduation.

It’s a far cry from where he thought he would be four years ago when he had surgery for osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) in his right knee. With OCD, blood supply to the knee is restricted, damaging the bone and cartilage, and sometimes causing a piece of bone and cartilage to separate. The condition can increase an athlete’s risk for early arthritis.

“When I first heard that I needed surgery, I though my career was over,” recalls Brian.

It’s important to trust the rehabilitation process, and do your exercises every day. I felt 1,000 times better than before surgery.

His orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mininder Kocher, associate director of the Boston Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine Division, reassured Brian that he would be able to return to his beloved sport … as long as he committed to rehabilitation.

“What Brian had is catcher’s knee, a condition that hasn’t been described before,” says Kocher.

What is catcher’s knee?

Athletes, especially growing athletes who specialize in one position at a young age, are at risk for overuse conditions, explains Kocher.

It’s fairly common for kids to become catching specialists by age 10. They’re catching all of the time, which means they’re sitting in a hyperflexed position and then standing up rapidly to throw. “Catchers are doing this through every game and practice,” says Kocher.

With OCD, the bone and articular cartilage that protects the end of the bone separate; it hampers the normal, fluid functioning of the knee and can cause pain and swelling. “We’re seeing the condition in catchers. But it manifests differently than typical OCD. It tends to be more extensive and advanced, and it involves the back of the knee,” says Kocher.

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Carter is more than you see


More than 50 feet above ground, a wire rope extends from one tree to another. High in the trees, seven-year-old Carter Mock fearlessly steps off a platform and places first one foot, then the other, onto the wire. Holding tight to hanging ropes for balance, he navigates across the wire to the next tree.

It’s an impressive feat for anyone, but for Carter it’s extra special. Just weeks earlier, he completed treatment for osteosarcoma (a bone cancer), and he now has a prosthetic bottom left leg and foot.

Carter says navigating the wire rope is tricky, because he can’t feel the pressure of the rope below his prosthetic leg as distinctly as he can with his other leg. But that doesn’t deter him. On this warm August day, he expertly completes all four levels of an aerial rope course at Mount Sunapee in New Hampshire with remarkable speed and agility.

Two weeks after school had started in fall 2015, Carter started to complain of a strange knee pain, and he developed a slight limp. After a whirlwind of subsequent doctor visits — and an X-ray, MRI and then biopsy — his family received his diagnosis: osteosarcoma.

Carter would need months of treatment, which would include chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. He had two options for surgery. One was rotationplasty, an unusual procedure that preserves the lower leg, attaches it to the thighbone, then uses the ankle as a knee joint. After surgery, he’d be fitted with a prosthetic lower leg. Once healed, he could resume all types of physical activity again, even high-impact sports. Another option was limb-sparing surgery, which would maintain the normal appearance of the leg. But the leg would never have the strength it had before, and Carter wouldn’t be able to ski, skate or run again.

It was an easy choice for Carter. He had no plans to give up skiing, skating, baseball or activities like the aerial course challenge — so he chose rotationplasty. After interviewing many surgeons at many cancer centers, Carter’s parents chose Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s. They were impressed by surgeon Dr. Mark Gephardt’s experience — and even more convinced when a rotationplasty surgeon at another high-profile center told them outright: If it were my child, I’d go to Dr. Gephardt.

Carter received his first of many ongoing chemotherapy infusions in October 2015. His surgery was in January, and physical therapy started just days later. In April, he received his prosthesis. In June, he had his final chemotherapy infusion, and his doctors cleared him to resume medium-impact activities, including the aerial rope course. He hopes to get full clearance for all sports — including skiing and hockey in January.

osteosarcoma rotationplasty

Sometimes, Carter notices people stare at his prosthetic leg, and when he still was in treatment some people gazed at his bald head. But here’s what Carter really wants people to see in him: He is active and athletic. He can complete the aerial course at Mount Sunapee without fear or difficulty. And soon, he will ski and play hockey again.

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month — and this month, Carter and other children at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s are sharing this message: We are more than you see. Don’t focus on the side effects of our treatment — see who we really are.

Learn more, see more stories, and join the campaign at DanaFarberBostonChildrens.org/MoreThanYouSee.

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My life after concussion: Finding a new game

concussion
Esther playing soccer before her concussion and practicing her golfswing after her injury

I am a 15-year-old rising high school junior.

I suffered a severe concussion in April 2013 while playing soccer and continue to experience daily intermittent headaches, nausea, fatigue, dizziness and memory deficits. Before my concussion, I was an avid soccer player — I played on three teams including a competitive club team — and also played tennis, hockey, and skied.

I definitely underestimated the severity of my concussion. I went to school the next day and was diagnosed when the baseline test at school revealed red flags. Still, I continued to underestimate. I pressured myself to get back to my soccer team and to keep up in school.

I’ve learned a few important lessons during my recovery.

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