Friday, January 30th, 2015
One family’s story might give you a different and more personal perspective on a continually debated issue: vaccines.
For the past four and a half years, Carl Krawitt and his wife, Jodi, have had to do something that no parent ever wants to do—watch their 6-year-old son, Rhett, battle leukemia. And after finishing numerous rounds of chemotherapy treatment, doctors say Rhett is in remission.
But now another battle has begun— the battle to keep Rhett as healthy as possible, despite being unvaccinated. Rhett cannot be vaccinated until his immune system is strong enough, which could take months. And if Rhett contracts a disease, he is at a higher risk for complications and even death.
While Rhett can rely on the power of herd immunity, it’s not guaranteed when he lives in Marin County, California, which has the highest rate of children in the Bay Area who have been opted out of immunizations. In fact, Rhett’s elementary school has a 7 percent personal belief exemption rate, which is nearly three times more than the statewide average.
In light of the current measles’ outbreak on the west coast, Carl is speaking up for his son — by requesting that his elementary school bans all unvaccinated students, except for those who, like his son, cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. “It’s very emotional for me,” he told NPR. “If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that’s your responsibility, that’s your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then…your action has harmed my child.”
And Rhett is not alone in having a weakened immune system. According to oncologist Dr. Robert Goldsby, “there are hundreds of other kids in the Bay Area who are going through cancer therapy, and it’s not fair to them.”
However, at this time, Marin County doesn’t have any confirmed or suspected cases of measles, so no immediate action can be made without approval from county health officers. However, “if the outbreak progresses and we start seeing more and more cases, then this is a step we might want to consider,” said Matt Willis, Marin County’s health officer.
We want to hear from you—let us know what you think! Is Carl Krawitt’s request to ban students fair? Or do you think it goes too far?
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn
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Thursday, February 13th, 2014
Fourteen-year-old Will Hart has made headlines, and cast a positive light on a very snowy winter, by creating a simple message into the snow on top of a parking garage visible from his mother’s hospital room, where she is undergoing treatment for a recently diagnosed leukemia. Today.com reports:
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To boost her spirits, the teen made a simple gesture that brought joy not only to his mom, Shari Hart, but to many others at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago as well.
On Saturday, as Will headed to the hospital with his dad and uncle, the trio shuffled their feet through the snow on top of a parking garage to form a message from Will: “Hi Mom,” with a smiley face inside the O just for fun.
From the garage across the street, he called Hart and coaxed her to her 14th floor window, where she proudly waved down to her son. The snowy note came as Hart, who has acute myeloid leukemia, was exhausted from chemotherapy.
“It was very sweet and I felt very uplifted,” said Hart, 48. “My son is an amazing 14-year-old with an ability to make me smile any time of day.”
It’s not the only heartwarming snow message appearing outside of hospitals. Earlier this week, an unknown woman and man stomped the word “Love” and a peace symbol outside of the St. Cloud Hospital in Minnesota.
After visiting his wife in the hospital, Hart’s husband, Tim, felt the trio should add to their message to inspire fellow patients and the doctors and nurses caring for them. They planned for “God Bless You All,” but ran out of space, with room only for: “God Bless U” in large capital letters.
“It was a proud mommy moment, and being married to someone who wants to send a message to so many people is beyond wonderful,” said Hart, married for 24 years. “The amount of love there is just incredible.”
Will noticed that people were watching from other windows in the hospital, some waving and jumping up and down with excitement.
One of those was Angela Washek, a surgical intensive care unit nurse, who snapped a photo and shared it with hospital officials. After the hospital posted the photo on its Facebook page Monday, Will’s 18-year-old sister, Hannah, identified her family. “It brought joy to my whole unit and our patients’ families just as much as I’m sure it brought joy to your family,” Washek wrote on Facebook to Hannah.
Thursday, September 26th, 2013
Cancer remains the number one cause of childhood death, but there is reason for optimism in the face of new treatments and better diagnostic tools, a new statistical analysis has found. More from ABC News:
National Cancer Institute statistics show that in the U.S. the combined, an overall five-year cancer survival rate for children under 19 with cancer has increased from 62 percent in the mid-1970s to 84 percent today. For the most common type of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the cure rate is now over 90 percent.
“We’ve made amazing progress on pediatric cancers in just one generation. It’s the biggest success story in cancer right now,” said James Downing, M.D., co-chair of the American Association for Cancer Research’s special conference on pediatric cancer; and scientific director at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
Downing said one of the reasons such great strides have been made in pediatric cancer is that treatment protocols for younger patients tend to be vastly different from adult protocols. With adult cancer, there is a tendency to take breaks in treatment and back off if it gets too intense, he said. But many pediatric oncologists are aggressive about having their patients push through treatment until there is a cure — sometimes for up to three years without a break.
Another reason for the high success rate is that up to 60 percent of pediatric cancer patients are treated as part of a research trial, compared to just 5 percent of adults, Downing said. Such trials offer access to cutting-edge treatments and a chance for oncologist to confer with a team of oncologists, other specialists and researchers.
But Downing said he thinks the biggest advances in treatment have come from the sequencing of the human genome.
“DNA sequencing of tumors helps us define the mutations that underlie pediatric cancer to help us attack cancers where we are not yet winning and will be a major catalyst to make progress in the next several years in how to treat those cancers,” he said.
Downing admitted there are some unique challenges when treating young ones stricken with cancer.
Most cancer drugs were developed for use with older, more mature bodies so proper dosages and side effects can be tricky, he said. The cancers seen in children are vastly different from the ones seen in adults, so they aren’t always as completely studied or well understood. And it’s also difficult to know whether the chemotherapy, radiation and surgery children receive might lead to health problems later in life.
“Our challenge is to cure them so they can reduce long-term complications and live a normal life,” he said.
Image: Child undergoing chemotherapy, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, December 11th, 2012
The family of 7-year-old Emma Whitehead are rejoicing after an experimental cancer treatment helped the girl beat leukemia that was threatening to take her life after two post-chemotherapy relapses. More from The New York Times:
“Desperate to save her, her parents sought an experimental treatment at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, one that had never before been tried in a child, or in anyone with the type of leukemia Emma had. The experiment, in April, used a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Emma’s immune system genetically to kill cancer cells.
The treatment very nearly killed her. But she emerged from it cancer-free, and about seven months later is still in complete remission. She is the first child and one of the first humans ever in whom new techniques have achieved a long-sought goal — giving a patient’s own immune system the lasting ability to fight cancer.
Emma had been ill with acute lymphoblastic leukemia since 2010, when she was 5, said her parents, Kari and Tom. She is their only child.
She is among just a dozen patients with advanced leukemia to have received the experimental treatment, which was developed at the University of Pennsylvania. Similar approaches are also being tried at other centers, including the National Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“Our goal is to have a cure, but we can’t say that word,” said Dr. Carl June, who leads the research team at the University of Pennsylvania. He hopes the new treatment will eventually replace bone-marrow transplantation, an even more arduous, risky and expensive procedure that is now the last hope when other treatments fail in leukemia and related diseases.”
Image: Laboratory technician, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, November 29th, 2012
The story of Mykayla Comstock, a 7-year-old Oregon girl who is undergoing treatment for leukemia, is at the center of a national debate on what age is appropriate to offer medical marijuana as a way to ease the symptoms of cancer treatments. The Oregonian newspaper reports on Comstock’s situation, which is unique in that her parents are divorced and do not agree on the use of cannabis in capsule form:
The Oregon Medical Marijuana Program serves 52 children who have a qualifying medical condition, parental consent and a doctor’s approval. Like adults, most cite pain as a qualifying condition, though many list multiple health problems, including seizures, nausea and cancer.
Allowing adults to consume medical marijuana is gaining acceptance nationwide. But Mykayla’s story underscores the complex issues that arise when states empower parents to administer the controversial drug to children.
Oregon’s law, approved by voters 14 years ago, requires no monitoring of a child’s medical marijuana use by a pediatrician. The law instead invests authority in parents to decide the dosage, frequency and manner of a child’s marijuana consumption.
The state imposes no standards for quality, safety or potency in the production of marijuana.
Little is known about how the drug interacts with the developing body, leading pediatricians say. A recent international study found sustained cannabis use among teens can cause long-term damage to intellect, memory and attention.
Many doctors worry about introducing a child to marijuana when they say other drugs can treat pain and nausea more effectively.
Mykayla’s father, who is divorced from the girl’s mother, was so disturbed by his daughter’s marijuana use that he contacted child welfare officials, police and her oncologist. Jesse Comstock said his concerns were prompted by a visit with Mykayla in August.
“She was stoned out of her mind,” said Comstock, 26. “All she wanted to do was lay on the bed and play video games.”
But Mykayla’s mother and her boyfriend, Erin Purchase and Brandon Krenzler, see the drug as a harmless antidote to leukemia’s host of horrors. The couple, regular cannabis users raised in Pendleton, said Mykayla relies almost exclusively on pot to treat pain, nausea, vomiting, depression and sleep problems associated with her cancer treatment.
Mykayla, who favors a knit cupcake cap to cover her fuzz of strawberry-colored hair, said marijuana makes her feel better.
It helps me eat and sleep,” she said, nestled against her mother on a couch. “The chemotherapy makes you feel like you want to stay up all night long.”
Marijuana, she said, “makes me feel funny, happy.”
“She’s like she was before,” her mother said. “She’s a normal kid.”
Image: Marijuana capsules, via Shutterstock
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