Elizabeth’s Inspiring Journey to Recovery
In the summer of 2021, Elizabeth was a typical 9-year-old. The fifth grader’s life took an unexpected turn days after her tenth birthday when she received the devastating diagnosis of leukemia on August 3rd, 2021.
What had initially seemed like sporadic headaches and vomiting had gradually become more persistent. Elizabeth’s mom, Lindsay, became concerned and took Elizabeth to the emergency department several times at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. There, physicians conducted a complete blood count (CBC) test. The test revealed that Elizabeth’s white blood cell count (WBC) was extremely elevated — 100 times normal levels. The somber truth emerged: there was leukemia in Elizabeth’s blood.
Challenges and Complications
After Elizabeth’s leukemia diagnosis, she was admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) where a critical procedure was performed to bring her elevated blood counts down to a safer range, allowing her to begin treatment.
Following her PICU stay, Elizabeth was relocated to the ninth floor of UPMC Children’s to start treatment. Her path was not without its share of complications. Just a month after her diagnosis, she experienced a seizure that led to her rehospitalization for nearly two weeks. Her physicians suspected that this might have been related to certain medications and high blood pressure. Thankfully, there was optimism that these issues could be managed and reversed.
Two months later, Elizabeth faced another unexpected medical hurdle: appendicitis, which required surgery to remove her appendix. This surgery led to another two week hospital stay, in addition to three more planned admissions for inpatient chemotherapy. Even as the spring of 2022 arrived and her treatment transitioned to an outpatient setting, it wasn’t a break from the struggles. The chemotherapy regimen took a toll on Elizabeth, resulting in severe nausea and daily episodes of vomiting. This phase of her journey underscores her determination and the invaluable support of her family and medical team.
Getting Back to Life
The following summer, Elizabeth entered the maintenance phase of treatment. This is a transitional phase which allows patients and families to start getting back to normal after treatment. For Elizabeth, this meant starting school in-person, and, unfortunately, more complications which included admissions due to fevers. Through ups and downs, Elizabeth’s spirit remained strong.
Setbacks and Triumphs
In November 2022, Elizabeth faced a significant setback in her journey. Elizabeth’s leukemia had returned. Scheduled to meet with her medical team to discuss her treatment plan, she suddenly developed a fever that sent her back into the hospital’s care. The fever took a more serious turn as it evolved into a viral infection that swiftly progressed into pneumonia.
Her condition became so critical that she had to be transferred to the PICU once again, where she remained until she could breathe independently without the aid of oxygen. After a grueling week, Elizabeth finally began to heal, and was eventually discharged.
This marked the beginning of a period of respite as preparations began for her upcoming bone marrow transplant (BMT). She spent most of the month of December in intensive inpatient chemotherapy. Thankfully, Elizabeth was able to come home just in time for Christmas, a precious moment for her family amid her challenging journey.
Looking Toward a Healthy Future
In February, Elizabeth underwent head radiation in preparation for her BMT, and was admitted once more to the hospital. During this hospitalization, she had surgery to implant an additional port and underwent a demanding regimen of whole-body radiation and chemotherapy in anticipation of the pivotal day.
On March 3, Elizabeth finally received her bone marrow transplant, a milestone that symbolized a fresh start and renewed hope in her fight against leukemia.
Looking back, six months post-transplant, Lindsay says Elizabeth is full of regained strength, returned to school in person and resumed activities like playing basketball with her classmates. Although the journey is far from over, Elizabeth and her family approach the future with optimism. “We still have a while to go, but we are looking towards the future!”
Elizabeth’s story is featured as part of KDKA Free Care Fund Telethon. When you support Telethon, you support every kid like Elizabeth in achieving the healthy future they deserve.
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