Before January 2010, Samantha Alcorn had no idea what leukemia was. Today she is all too familiar with this one little word and how it forever changed the life of her daughter Katie Hollingsworth.
Half-way through her eighth grade year, 14-year-old Katie began to develop flu-like symptoms. Thinking it might be mono Katie’s physician ordered laboratory tests which revealed an elevated white blood cell count. The doctor in the emergency room in Richmond, Indiana suspected Katie might have leukemia and after consulting with her pediatrician sent Katie to the emergency department at Dayton Children’s.
Emmett H. Broxson, Jr, MD, FAAP, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Dayton Children’s was consulted. When Dr. Broxson met with Katie and her family, he explained that a bone marrow aspirate and biopsy would be necessary to determine the cause of the elevated white blood cell count. Katie’s bone marrow revealed she had acute myelocytic leukemia (AML).
“It didn’t hit me at first what leukemia was. When they explained that it was cancer I couldn’t believe it” says Samantha. “My first reaction was how do you fix this? I didn’t think about what if she doesn’t get through this; I just wanted to know the steps.”
AML is a rare form of leukemia for children and is much more common in older men. Approximately 38 percent of children with leukemia have AML and it only has 40 percent survival odds.
Dr. Broxson explained treatment options for AML to Katie and her family. These included chemotherapy and possibly a bone marrow transplant. Katie’s family underwent testing to see if anyone was a possible match for a bone marrow transplant, but none of the family was a potential donor, hence only chemotherapy was planned for Katie.
“When I found out I had cancer and would have to have chemotherapy I was really scared about losing my hair,” says Katie. “I never thought what if I die. I just told myself I was going to get through this.”
Katie and her parents agreed to participate in a Children’s Oncology Group (COG) clinical trial. COG is the world’s largest cooperative children’s cancer research entity. Katie’s treatment consisted of five very intense courses of chemotherapy which started in January. The first of the three courses were well tolerated and Katie kept her spirits high by playing the video game Rock Band in her room, becoming friends with the nurses and naming her “Webkinz©” stuffed animals after her doctors. Dr. Broxson was the fox.
“It was really hard getting sick and not being able to do anything but it made it a lot better having nurses that I became friends with. Jessica is hilarious and Rachelle is like my big sister. They both really care about the kids they take care of,” says Katie. “Dr B. is also great. He really cares about me and always tells me I can do it. He is always my cheerleader.”
In April things took a turn for the worse when Katie started her fourth round of chemotherapy. She developed pneumonia which required a week’s stay in the Dayton Children’s pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
“After the fourth round you could tell how sick Katie was,” says Samantha. “Before all of this happened she was built like a big strong muscular girl, but now she was just so weak. I didn’t want to put her through the fifth round of chemotherapy, but Dr. Broxson assured us that it was part of the protocol. Her body wouldn’t have been able to handle ever starting over again, so they needed to try to complete the whole course of treatment.”
Samantha’s fears of the strain that the fifth round of chemotherapy would have on Katie’s body were not unfounded. Katie again developed another severe infection which led to septic shock and another prolonged stay in the PICU. Through collaborative efforts between hematology/oncology and PICU physicians, Katie’s condition stabilized.
Unfortunately Katie’s bone marrow function did not recover as anticipated. Dr. Broxson tested Katie’s bone marrow again and discovered she had developed a rare secondary blood disease called hemophagocytic lymphohisiocytosis (HLH). Dr. Broxson collaborated with the physicians at Cincinnati Children’s to treat Katie’s HLH. Fortunately with teamwork between Dayton Children’s and Cincinnati Children’s, Katie beat the odds and survived.
“When Katie was at Cincinnati Children’s, Dr. Broxson came all the way to see her and worked with Cincinnati doctors to decide what they best plan would be. Their working together truly saved her life,” says Samantha.
“Katie is a beautiful, strong-willed young lady who has fought a battle that many will never have to face in this lifetime,” says Rachelle Musselman, RN, staff nurse in the hematology/oncology unit. “I was constantly inspired by Katie and her family with their steadfast faith in God and amazing prayer life as they trusted in the Lord for His provision and plan over her life. Throughout intense chemotherapy, she continued to fight courageously facing countless bumps in the road with an unforgettable smile that never faded.“
Now at age 16, Katie is in remission and living the life of a normal teenage girl. Because Katie was a part of the COG clinical trial, changes have been made to the type of chemotherapy she underwent. Patients now only have to receive four rounds of the treatment and avoid that fifth round which caused so many problems for Katie.
“I like to think that I was a part of that change,” says Katie. “It’s going to help a lot of kids who wouldn’t have made it through that round.”
Katie is excited to spend the next year as an ambassador for Dayton Children’s. As an ambassador she will have the opportunity to share her story with others and offer hope and encouragement.
“Katie continues to be an inspiration to many and serves as a positive reminder of why we do what we do!” says Musselman.
“I’m really excited to show kids who get cancer can make it through it! This hospital helped me a lot. Dayton Children’s is small and personal and the people here act like they are your family. I love this hospital so I love having the opportunity to be an ambassador for it,” says Katie.
About Dayton Children's Comprehensive Care Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders
The Comprehensive Care Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders cares for children, teens and young adults, through 21 years of age. Dayton Children's pediatric cancer program partners with the Children's Oncology Group and follows nationally approved protocols for cancer treatment. This allows us to provide the infants, children and teens treated at Dayton Children's with the most current, state-of-the-art cancer treatments available.
We believe there are 18 ways we're just right for our region's kids! Learn more and share your story at justrightforkids.org.