Photo provided by CHOG


Stronger Together

As a baby, Lucas was one who never ran out of energy.

So when he got a fever, his mom, Danielle, didn’t worry too much. After all, it was flu season, and her then-six-year-old was still running around like he always did.

But then one week went by. His doctor checked, and sent him home with an antibiotic for an ear infection.

Then another week of fever. Tests came back negative for the flu, and his doctor sent him home again.

Then another week. By this time, Danielle was starting to worry. Her always-running 6-year-old was sleeping all the time, his fever was starting to spike and he would wake up in the middle of the night to throw up.

Lucas was with Danielle at work one day when one of her co-workers asked, “Lucas, are you all right? You look a little yellow.”

Without answers from her doctor, Danielle called her mother-in-law, Rhonda, a nurse at the downtown VA. “Come by and let me take a look at him,” she said.

She took one look and said, “I think we need to take him across the street to the Children’s Hospital.”

In the ER of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, Danielle and Rhonda waited as doctor after doctor came into Lucas’ room. At one point, Rhonda got up to leave because she had to go to work early the next morning. But she came back with tears in her eyes, and a moment later, one of the doctors asked Danielle to step into another room.

He sat her down, and said quietly, “We think Lucas may have leukemia.”

They are words that still make Danielle break down into tears. “I was in denial,” she said. “But they confirmed it the next day after they admitted us.”

By this time, Danielle’s husband, Jerrett, had raced home from Myrtle Beach, where he had been working. Tears flowed again. “Jerrett is so sweet and kind, and Lucas is just like him,” said Danielle. “They’re thick as thieves, and he was just like, ‘That’s my kid. That’s my kid.’”

And Lucas, her sweet, energetic child? “He just rolled with it,” said Danielle. “We talked to him, and for him, it was no big deal. He had this.”

Ironically, the “good” news was that Lucas was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common type of leukemia, with about 98 percent of children going into remission after just weeks of treatment, and 90 percent cured.

With family to help care for the couple’s other children, Makayla, then 7, and Logan, then 2, Danielle and Jerrett were able to be with Lucas as he began his journey fighting cancer.

That first month, Lucas received chemotherapy at day 1, day 15, day 21 and day 29. A spinal tap to check his lymphoblasts—the abnormal cells that are leukemia—found that they were down, enough that his doctors could classify Lucas at standard risk.

Lucas was officially in remission—but not that his journey was over. After that first month, he began eight months of intense chemotherapy, which entailed multiple spinal taps, weekly hospital visits with chemo administered via port, and a few hospital stays.

Now, he’s in maintenance, which he will stay in until 2021, taking daily chemotherapy pills and coming into clinic for chemotherapy every month, too.

Before the word cancer entered their lives, Danielle and Jerrett were living with their family in Illinois, two hours away from a children’s hospital. Today they are only 20 minutes away.

“The staff at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia—the child life specialists; the great nurses; the amazing doctors; honestly anyone we come in contact with—they all listen, introduce us to other families going through this, and most of all, just make sure that Lucas is happy. That helps so much,” said Danielle. “Just having each other too—our whole family, together. That’s kept us strong.



Photo provided by CHOG


How Hudson became Children’s Hospital of Georgia’s “Man of the Year”

It was just a lump on 4-year-old Hudson’s neck, no bigger than a dime.

His doctor told his mom, Jennifer, not to worry about it.

As a nurse, Jennifer didn’t like what she was seeing—especially since “it just stayed there. I could understand it being enlarged if he had a runny nose and cough and fever, but with no other symptoms, why?”

Even as the lymph node grew bigger, Hudson’s doctor told her it was likely nothing. But nurses don’t quit—even more so when it’s something wrong with their four-year-old boy who chatters a mile a minute and whose favorite T-shirt sports the words, “’Sup, ladies?”

Jennifer got her referral to Dr. Robyn Hatley, a pediatric surgeon at the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. It was just in time. Over the weekend, Hudson’s lymph node swelled to the size of a ping-pong ball, and he got his first fever.

That Monday, Dr. Hatley did a biopsy. The family already felt like they were friends with this gentle surgeon who is just as comfortable performing complex surgeries in the OR as he is plopping down next to Hudson to talk sports and share Paw Patrol stickers. “I could tell then he was concerned,” said Jennifer. “He had a long conversation with us about how it could be nothing, but it could be something.  And he said that if it was, he’d call me and ask me to come in.” The call came on Wednesday. “He said, ‘OK, I’m going to be straight and tell you like it is. You need to come in now, we’re going to direct admit Hudson. He has cancer.’” Jennifer pauses for a moment. “That’s what I needed, for him to be straight with me, tell me what it was, then do something about it.”

Tests revealed that Hudson had T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. That night, Jennifer, her husband, Brandon, and Hudson met Dr. Colleen McDonough, the pediatric oncologist who would put Hudson on a plan. After doctors put in a picc line, Hudson would start on five days of chemo, then six to eight months of intense chemotherapy treatment where he would need to come in every week, followed by maintenance therapy for three years.

“I had a few moments,” said Jennifer, whose family also includes 7-year-old daughter Tenley. “We all did. But you know, you try to remember there’s a plan. I’m strong in my faith and I try to think that He’s got a plan, even if I don’t know what it is.”

Hudson’s been in treatment now since December 2018. His blonde hair is gone, but the exuberant little boy is just the same as he always has been. Which is a blessing. “We’re doing good. Tenley, we try to keep everything as normal as possible for her,” said Jennifer. “Brandon shut down in the beginning, but right now he’s doing good too. We hope it continues as well as it has and that we can keep him at home as much as possible.”

Hudson’s nickname at the pediatric cancer clinic is “Man of the Year.” “It’s because they love him so much and he’s so outgoing,” said Jennifer with a laugh. “He loves to squire the nurses with the flushes that they use to flush the port, and he offers them bites of his chicken nuggets because he thinks they’re hungry.

“We’re happy,” she added. “He couldn’t be doing any better. And we’ll take our good times while we’re having them.”

This article appears in the September/October 2019 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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