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Courage is in the Blood for Emily and Her Family

In late 2014, Melissa and Barrie of Burlington started sensing that something was wrong with their 9-year-old daughter, Emily. Unexplained bruising started to appear on her body after twirling her baton. She was becoming ill frequently with viruses and getting strep throat. Even her colour appeared off and she was becoming pale.

“After some blood work, our pediatrician told us to go straight to McMaster Children’s Hospital because her red blood cell and platelet levels were very low,” says Melissa. “Emily needed a blood transfusion and she was admitted to hospital, where she had a bone marrow aspiration and biopsy the next day.”

Melissa and Barrie were told that Emily might have leukemia. In a matter of hours, they were given a diagnosis, and it wasn’t what they were expecting.

“It wasn’t cancer, but they said that her bone marrow was practically empty and she had aplastic anemia,” explains Barrie. “It’s a rare, life-threatening illness that involved Emily's bone marrow shutting down and no longer producing red blood cells, white immunity cells or platelets needed to stop bleeding and bruising.”

Emily was put under the care of Dr. Vicky Breakey and her team in hematology/oncology, where she visited the clinic two to three times a week for monitoring and transfusions.

“The inpatient immunosuppressive drug treatment was done in January 2015 and involved a six-day admission,” explains Melissa. “As we have no other children, there are no exact bone marrow matches and this treatment was the next option. The idea was to kill off the T cells that were attacking the marrow and then reboot the marrow into functioning again.”

Emily continued to fall ill regularly due to her low immunity and she missed 10 months of school altogether. Fortunately, her bone marrow showed some signs of recovery and that it was producing some blood cells. Emily went through a second round of the immunosuppressive treatment again in August with hopes of boosting the activity of the bone marrow.

“The treatment seemed to work and Emily had her last blood transfusion around Halloween,” says Barrie. “However, she experienced a severe reaction to the treatment which involved an additional nine-day admission on heavy medication. It was hard to see her in so much pain.” 

Emily has had a "partial response" to the treatment, as her levels of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets are lower than average, but at least her bone marrow is now actively producing them.  Her immunity is still low and she is at-risk for infection, and she will likely require a bone marrow transplant in the future.

 “We are grateful for the care and treatment we received at McMaster Children’s Hospital” says Melissa. “The hematology/oncology staff has made an enormous difference in all of our lives.”




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