October 6, 2019
Howdy! My name is Maria Drews. I am an Aggie and a physical therapist and have worked at Hope Rehab Katy since 2001. Currently, I work at the Grand Parkway location. I married my amazing husband John 11 years ago. John is a Mechanical Engineer and works for BD Energy systems. We have two boys, Jacob who is 4 years old and Lucas, who is 15 months. Our family also includes two dogs, Buddy and Lola. I would like to share my story with you.
Our lives changed forever in May of this year by four little words, “Your son has leukemia”.
How it began
In April, I noticed puffiness along Lucas’s right temple. A week later, we were sitting in the pediatrician’s office for his 9-month checkup. After pointing it out to the doctor, she had us observe it over the next two weeks and if it became worse, she would send us for imaging. Two weeks later it had become the size of a quarter and felt hard. The pediatrician referred us to a plastic surgeon at Texas Children’s Hospital West Campus.
The plastic surgeon ordered an x-ray and ultrasound, which were inconclusive. He then ordered an MRI and a biopsy to be performed at the main hospital campus in the Houston medical center. Lucas began to run a fever before the testing could be done. He began having difficulty breathing and we ended up in the ER . They gave him Motrin for his fever and regulated his breathing so we could go home. We managed the fever with medicine over the next week and a half, but it never fully went down.
On May 1st, we took Lucas to the med center for his MRI and biopsy. We expected to be there for half a day, then return home to finish packing our house. Movers were coming on May 3 to move us into our new home. That half day visit turned into a 31-day stay in the hospital.
The biopsy showed that the mass was protruding towards Lucas’ brain. The doctors wanted to keep him overnight for observation and we were admitted to the general medicine floor. Within hours, numerous doctors came to visit us. There were neurosurgeons, ophthalmologists, pediatricians and oncologists. The diagnosis of Leukemia kept being tossed around, but they could not say for sure until they had the results of the biopsy. We moved to the oncology floor that night.
On May 3rd, two oncology doctors came into the room while John and I were waiting for Lucas to be taken in for an MRI. They gave us Lucas’ official diagnosis. He had Acute Myeloid Leukemia, m7 (AML). The doctors explained that m7 is very rare and is normally seen in people with Down Syndrome, which Lucas did not have. The mass on Lucas’s right temple was a Chloroma, a collection of leukemia cells, also very rare.
Our new reality
Every parent’s worst nightmare had just become our reality. We struggled to process what our life was going to be like over the foreseeable future. The doctors explained that Lucas would go through two to five rounds of chemo with the possibility of progressing to bone marrow transplant starting at the end of the second round. This would take between six and eight months. They also explained that they would place a central line in his chest and that chemo would begin the next week.
What we thought would be a half-day visit to the hospital, turned out to be the entire month of May. During that month, we moved houses and put our old house on the market. Thankfully, our family helped us move and sell our old house. Lucas’ big brother Jacob, struggled with moving into a new house without John and I present, so he stayed with his grandparents in Denison for a few weeks, which he thoroughly enjoyed.
John and I have never been ones to ask for much help, but that quickly changed. We felt overwhelmed at amount of support we received from the community. Friends, family, coworkers, church members, Jacob’s school and complete strangers quickly began to offer us help. God knew what we needed and provided it for us.
Lucas was considered to be in remission after the first round of chemo. Lucas celebrated his first birthday in the hospital while undergoing his second round of chemo. Birthdays are a huge deal at the hospital. We invited friends and family for a party in his room. All the nurses, doctors and support staff came to wish him a happy birthday. Lucas may never remember his first birthday, but John and I will always treasure how special it was.
After the second round of chemo, the leukemia doctor was leaning towards doing five rounds of chemo and not the transplant. We received a call from leukemia doctor on the day Lucas was admitted for his third round of chemo. He informed me that they wanted Lucas to go to transplant. The leukemia team felt like this was his best chance to beat this disease. During this round of chemo, Lucas developed a staph infection at his central line site. The central line was removed and replaced a few days later. Lucas was more nauseous during this chemo, but he would bounce right back and start playing as soon as he finished throwing up. Lucas amazed all the staff as to how well he handled it. They planned for Lucas to go to transplant after the third round of chemo.
After each round of chemo, Lucas had a bone marrow biopsy, a lumbar puncture and an MRI to assess if he was in remission. The MRI assessed the Chloroma to make sure that it was dying/dead. The doctors also wanted to biopsy the Chloroma. The day that Lucas was to have the biopsy, the doctor informed us that the neurosurgeon did not feel that the biopsy would truly tell us the complete story. They felt they could not get a big enough sample to be confident with the results. They decided Lucas should undergo a fourth round of chemo. John and I were devastated. We were so ready to put this chapter of our lives behind us. After the doctors explained their reasoning, we were more confident with their decision. They explained to us that if Lucas went to transplant with active leukemia, it could be fatal.
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Several months earlier in December 2018, I had completed my studies to earn my Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Texas Tech University. I anticipated receiving my diploma and Doctoral hood at the graduation ceremony in May. However, due to Lucas’ extended hospitalizations, I was unable to attend. Texas Tech arranged to send two professors to Katy to present me with my diploma and officially “hood” me. It was a big day of celebration with multiple family members and my co-workers. A definite bright light during a dark time.
Norovirus & Green light for transplant
During the fourth round of chemo, Lucas contracted the norovirus, a highly contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. He was kept in isolation for a week and a half. Keeping him entertained in one small room definitely was challenging. Thankfully, our nanny Cheryl, came and stayed two to three nights a week. This allowed me to go to work and have a break from the room.
The fourth round of chemo paid off immensely. A head CT was performed. The results were that the Chloroma was gone and that there was new normal bone development. We had a green light for transplant.
To be continued…