For his fifth birthday, Simon McKenzie got a special socially-distanced parade complete with an appearance from the local fire department.

By Kristi Pahr
April 24, 2020
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Credit: Courtesy Cleveland Clinic

When Simon McKenzie was two-years-old, he was diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), one of the most common childhood cancers. His parents, Autumn Ziemba and Mark McKenzie, were sent reeling. He immediately began treatment with chemotherapy at Cleveland Clinic Children's hospital, where he would stay for seven weeks.

After 28 days of intensive cancer treatment, Simon's leukemia entered remission, but he stayed on weekly chemotherapy drugs for the next three years.

Maintenance chemotherapy is not unusual after a patient's cancer has entered remission–it's used to keep the disease from returning–but it can cause immunosuppression and makes patients more vulnerable to infection. With the groundswell of COVID-19 cases, Simon's family and his care team decided it was time to stop his chemo and work on boosting his immune system.

Normally at Cleveland Clinic Children's, when a patient finishes chemo they ring a bell to mark the occasion, but with the specter of coronavirus looming, it wasn't safe for Simon to participate in this tradition, so a group called A Special Wish Cleveland arranged something even more special–for the local fire department to ring their bells for him.

In April, the Lakewood fire department took part in a parade through Simon's neighborhood to congratulate him on completing his chemo and also to wish him a happy cancer-free fifth birthday.

Credit: Courtesy Cleveland Clinic

Three years after his cancer diagnosis, Simon is thriving. He's also enrolled in therapy at the Cleveland Clinic–he was diagnosed with autism just months before his cancer diagnosis. At the time, his parents noticed he wasn't acting as social as he was previously so they immediately began exploring several therapies (speech, occupational, and physical) and Simon seemed to be responding well. Now, after a battle with cancer, the 5-year-old is close with his sister, Maren, and his teachers say he's made progress with both communication and physical stamina.

“Our goal is for Simon to live his best life, and be his best self. And every milestone he achieves is such a wonderful gift, one that he has worked so hard to make happen,” says Autumn. “We’re so proud of him. Actually, pride doesn’t cover it–we’re just in awe.”

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