Stories about: leukemia

Brother’s stem cells send Emma’s leukemia into remission

Emma and her brother, Alexander, following her stem cell transplant.

How do you repay someone who has given you the gift of life? Eight-year-old Emma Duffin of Enfield, Connecticut, started by giving a kiss and cuddle to her brother, Alexander, who donated his bone marrow stem cells to Emma to reboot her immune system and send her rare form of leukemia into remission.

Emma’s journey to a stem cell transplant began in April 2014, when her usual energetic demeanor began to change. “Emma was very vibrant, very active, and she did not like to rest,” says her father, Brian Duffin. But suddenly his go-go daughter was exhausted all the time. She was diagnosed with strep throat, then foot-and-mouth disease, but neither medication nor time brought any improvement.

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Pediatric leukemia: A guide for parents

8-year-old leukemia patient visits with her doctor
Dr. Leslie Lehmann and pediatric leukemia patient, Emma Duffin

What is leukemia?

Leukemia is a type of cancer that starts in early forms of white blood cells. White blood cells are cells that typically fight infections. Early forms of white blood cells live in bone marrow, the spongy tissue inside most bones in the body. When early white blood cells become leukemia (or cancer cells), they grow out of control and crowd out the normal young blood cells in the bone marrow. From there, the cancerous cells spread through the blood to other parts of the body.

Leukemia is either fast growing (acute) or slower growing (chronic). Almost all leukemia in children is acute. From most common to most rare, the four types of pediatric leukemia are: Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML). ALL affects white blood cells called lymphocytes, whereas AML affects white blood cells called myeloid cells.

How is leukemia diagnosed?

The first test usually performed to diagnose leukemia is a complete blood count (CBC) to determine how many types of each blood cell are in the blood. Children with leukemia often do not have normal numbers of red blood cells and platelets.

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Superheroes, super kids in super costumes don’t let cancer stop Halloween

Children from the Jimmy Fund Clinic and their families trick or treat through Dana Farber.
Children from the Jimmy Fund Clinic and their families trick or treat through Dana Farber. Photo courtesy of Sydney Altschuler.

Abby Roxo likes to be unique on Halloween, and today she had unique totally covered.

The 9-year-old from Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, arrived at the outpatient clinic of Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center ready for the annual Halloween parade. Wearing a feathery white halo, white shirt and white pants with large black spots, Abby, who made her costume with the help of her sisters, also drew black spots on her cheeks and wore bright red lipstick.

What was she? “Holy cow!” she said.

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The new frontier: Improving safety of outpatient care done at home

central lineAfter Lacey Martin’s leukemia didn’t respond to initial rounds of chemotherapy and after she spent 10 weeks hospitalized for a stem cell transplant, the 11-year-old New Hampshire girl went home March 2 with an external line for medications that her mother would have to flush and clean twice a day. Lacey’s immune system and infection-fighting ability were so weakened from her treatment that she was under isolation precautions for six months after she left the hospital. Any bloodstream infection contracted through the line, which exited her chest, would be serious and potentially life-threatening.

It is terrifying knowing your child is so susceptible to bacteria and infection and you’re doing it in the house, with kids running around and the dog. I needed to know how to do it right, and I needed to know I could do it.

Caring for a child’s central line at home is, to say the least, a daunting responsibility.

“It’s extremely scary,” says Crystal Martin, Lacey’s mother. “It is terrifying knowing your child is so susceptible to bacteria and infection and you’re doing it in the house, with kids running around and the dog. I needed to know how to do it right, and I needed to know I could do it.”

This is the frontier of efforts to improve the quality of care. With more and more complex tasks moving from the hospital ward to the home, improving inpatient safety and quality of care is only the first step. After collaborating with other pediatric oncology programs to successfully reduce inpatient central-line-associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs), Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center has now launched an initiative to reduce outpatient CLABSIs.

The Martins are among the first families to participate.

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