Can you remember a day in your life when everything changed forever?
For the Santos family, December 11, 2018, is a day they will never forget. That day their son, Carter, wasn’t feeling well and had a persistent high fever. After a simple blood test at his pediatrician’s office, something didn’t look right and so the family was referred to Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego for further testing.
“We immediately went to the Emergency Department, and after a couple of hours of testing, the doctor told us, ‘This is a day your family would never forget. I’m sorry to tell you, Carter has leukemia.’ We were devastated. Cancer in our son felt unimaginable,” says Carter’s mom, Nicole.
Carter was immediately admitted to the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s. His diagnosis: b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. The family learned his treatment would be three long and intense years. To begin his treatments, he received a blood transfusion, three platelet transfusions, and a bone marrow aspiration.
“It was a very dark and scary time for all of us; it was news we couldn’t believe was real,” Nicole adds. “As a parent, I would’ve given anything to trade places with him at that moment. The next few months were kind of a blur.”
After 20 days of inpatient care at Rady Children’s, including Christmas Day, Carter began complaining of abdominal pain. A quick scan revealed that his chemotherapy treatment had thinned his intestinal walls, causing them to perforate and cause sepsis. Cancer was no longer their greatest fear. He was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors removed 20 percent of Carter’s small intestine and performed an ileostomy procedure to save his life.
Carter slowly started to heal and gain strength so that he could restart chemo and continue the fight against cancer. His bone marrow was once again tested in hopes that the cancer cells were gone. Unfortunately, cancer was still there. He was now considered to be in the highest risk category for b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, lowering his survival rate. This would also mean that he would have to receive more intense chemotherapy treatments.
It was a long road to recovery. Throughout his treatment, he spent 96 days admitted to the hospital, 1,210 days of treatment, 17 blood transfusions, six platelet transfusions, more than 1,000 doses of chemotherapy, put under anesthesia 36 times, and spent hundreds of outpatient days at Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s.
After these treatments, the family can now celebrate another day: June 10, 2019. It is another day that changed their life forever because, on this day, the family received the news that Carter was finally CANCER FREE.
“Carter pushed through treatment like a warrior,” Nicole says. “His strength and spirit were nothing short of heroic and inspiring. We draw from him to show us that we are capable of so much more than we realize. This was largely because we felt supported by the incredible team at the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders.”
The Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders provides specialized cancer treatment and hematology services— including blood and bone marrow transplants – to more than 20,000 patients like Carter each year. The Center offers families a full range of pediatric clinical services, including psychosocial programs and resources, to help patients and their families from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.
To learn more about cancer and hematology services at Rady Children’s, and to support kids like Carter, visit rchsd.org/programs-services/cancer-blood-disorders.