What should have been a carefree visit to Hawaii for the Snow family turned into a looming nightmare of events ignited when nine-year-old Aiden told his mother, Bridgette Snow, he was experiencing pain in his elbows. His mother thought it might be lactic acid from three rigorous football practices and tennis played during his first week of school. But, she remembered his joints had locked up also that week and he’d grown pale. Bridgette hoped he was just tired.
But once in Maui, Aiden’s ailments continued. “Two days later, his foot swelled up and was hot to the touch,” said Bridgette. “His lymph nodes behind his ears also were swollen as was the back of his neck. We went to Urgent Care only to be advised we should travel across the island to the Emergency Room.” There she was told Aiden’s white blood cell count had risen to 116,000.
“I think, you know,” she said, “it never crosses your mind that your child has cancer. Ever. When the doctor told me, I didn’t even know what he was saying to me. When I heard 116,000, I thought, he must have a massive infection. I just didn’t understand,” she said. “He had to say it to me: ‘It’s cancer’ and I just hit the floor.”
Within the hour, they flew from Maui to Honolulu where Aiden was seen at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, a Children’s Oncology Group (COG) member institution. COG is a way to enroll children nationally on protocols in treating cancer. Aiden was diagnosed with Philadelphia-Like Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a high risk category due to his white blood cell count. He received treatment at the hospital for two weeks until he and his family flew home to Las Cruces.
“I heard of Dr. Mary Lacaze through a girlfriend of mine,” said Bridgette, speaking of who would become Aiden’s primary physician and oncologist at Southwest University Blood and Cancer Center at El Paso Children’s Hospital. She also knew El Paso Children’s was certified by the National Cancer Institute, making it a COG member, too. COG cares for 90% of all children with pediatric cancers. As a COG member institution, El Paso Children’s features a multi-disciplinary team of oncologists, research scientists, oncology nurses, psychologists, pediatric oncology pharmacists and others who use their specialty skills in the diagnosis, management and investigation of childhood cancer. There are only 210 COG members in the world. 172 of them are in the U.S. El Paso Children’s is one of them.
“Aiden had a very unusual – a very less common type of high risk leukemia – and he was started on treatment and on reevaluation during his induction,” said Dr. Mary Lacaze. “Aiden did not go into remission. So he was the first child actually in the entire country to enroll on a protocol, a COG protocol, again,” she reiterates, “the first one in the entire U.S. to be placed on a protocol which addressed exactly this type of leukemia with a targeted type drug.” Aiden still did not go into remission and needed a bone marrow transplant. In order to have the transplant, he must be in remission. “So the big dilemma,” said Dr. Lacaze, “was how, if possible, could we put Aiden into remission? So I used a FDA drug approved drug which is a constant infusion for 28 days.” As a result, Aiden went into remission and was able to fly to San Antonio for a bone marrow transplant.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Bridgette, “I think if we hadn’t gone to Hawaii, we wouldn’t have been put in with the COG group to start with. I fear that maybe we wouldn’t have known and not been brought into the COG group and that I truly believe is why he was diagnosed in Hawaii because we were meant to be brought into the COG group or I truly don’t think Aiden would be here. The fact that he went from 22% residual at three months to zero at the molecular level after the 28 day treatment is nothing short of a miracle,” she said. “The fact is that he is home and he’s happy and he’s doing well when a few months ago we were afraid we were never leaving this hospital. Dr. Lacaze consulted every hospital to find the right drug to work for Aiden and she did and I will forever be indebted and grateful to her for that.”
According to Bridgette, Chau Nguyen, Pediatric Oncology Pharmacist at El Paso Children’s was also instrumental in Aiden’s story. “I think he is a wonderful human being,” said Bridgette. “I think with the combination of him and Dr. Lacaze and all the staff, I really do believe that they are the reason Aiden is here. He brings another level of comfort to Aiden that otherwise he wouldn’t have being the first child on this drug here. Dr. Nguyen was here and present for the bag changes in the 28 days of constant infusion. And I know he is busy and didn’t have to do this, but he does it every single time.”
“I believe that every state, region needs a COG facility,” said Dr. Nguyen. “The reason why it’s so important is to support El Paso Children’s COG is because we belong to a network of hospitals that have guidelines that have proven regiments that only we can see because we are members to treat our children. But I think the most important thing is that for El Paso to know that we need a program because without this program like Aiden’s story, he would have never been placed on his first treatment that failed and I can almost guarantee he wouldn’t have been given his second treatment. And so coming to El Paso before COG came here, most of the kids had to go out of the community, to Dallas, to San Antonio, to Houston to get treatment but we are here.”
Southwest University Blood and Cancer Center at El Paso Children’s helps children just like Aiden. You can be part of the cure. To donate: https://elpasochildrensfoundation.org/donate.html