Stories about: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia

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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Brother donates stem cells to sister battling leukemia

Gia Lesselroth (consent # 8036) is leukemia/transplant patient. For her visit she is accoompanied by her mother Marissa and her brother Logan who was her donor. With nurse Erin Santacroce, RN, BSN

On September 24, 2015, in a sixth floor room at Boston Children’s Hospital, 5-year-old Logan Lesselroth pressed the button that started the transfer of his newly harvested blood stem cells to his 3-year-old sister, Gianna.

“This,” Gianna told him, “is a gift from your body.”

The path to that moment and the stem cell transplant’s potential to cure Gianna of her relapsed leukemia was anything but straightforward. Logan has a genetic condition called medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD), which makes it difficult for his body to convert sugar to energy. Would his metabolic disorder be passed to Gianna? Would the disorder make it too risky for Logan to have his stem cells harvested?

Diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at the age of 4½ months, Gianna achieved a remission that lasted two years. In May 2015, the leukemia was back. With that, Mike and Marissa Lesselroth sought options for their daughter in their home state of Florida and beyond. “We talked to her doctors in Florida, and they agreed that coming to Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s was the best choice for Gianna because they offered a lot of treatment options for relapsed leukemia,” Mike says.

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A patient and doctor team come full circle

Kate-1Kate Franklin was just three and a half years old in August 2000 when her mother Emily brought her to the Boston Children’s Hospital emergency room, because she was bruising easily and couldn’t seem to shake a strep throat. Loren Walensky, MD, PhD, had just started his fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology the month before, and that night Kate Franklin became one of the first patients he diagnosed with cancer. When Walensky told Emily Franklin that her daughter had leukemia, the mother placed her hands on the doctor’s shoulders, and, in a moment that Walensky says he will never forget, she said, “I will see you at her wedding.”

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Taking a targeted approach when leukemia comes back

Sarah Levin (above, with her mother Michelle Fineberg) went through hell and back when her acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) releapsed. New research by Lewis Silverman, MD, could make relapsed ALL much easier to treat.

Treatment success varies widely from cancer to cancer, but for one cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), we have a really good track record. The cure rate for ALL has, over the last 40 years, climbed to nearly 90 percent.

Less comforting is the fact that the disease comes back in about 10 to 20 percent of children who are initially cured. That’s what Michelle Fineberg found out when her daughter Sarah Levin relapsed nearly six years after her last treatment.

“Sarah’s color wasn’t right, and then she started running a fever, so I took her in for a blood test. I just knew deep down that the cancer was coming back,” Michelle recalls. “When the call came that we had to go back to the hospital, we were devastated. We knew we were going back into hell.”

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