At dawn on February 26th, 2009, the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders was eerily quiet. Only a few of the hospitalized patients were stirring in their cribs and beds. Most had a parent within hand-holding distance on a special foldout sleeper chair.
By 7:00 a.m., the hallways slowly began to come alive with the sound of voices and the arrival of breakfast trays. Most of the shades on the windows remained drawn tightly shut. On a unit where heart-wrenching drama occurs daily, it is often expressed privately. In front of the patients, parents and visitors wear their game faces. Conversation stays upbeat. But look closely and, sometimes, in the quiet hallways or in the Parents Center, their guard comes down.
By mid-morning, the tempo had changed dramatically. The Carley Copley Outpatient Clinic was open and staff were checking in patients for chemotherapy, blood work and checkups.
Some of Rady Children's hematologists and oncologists were busy seeing clinic patients; others were on rounds of the 21 inpatients.
In one of the inpatient rooms, 19-month-old Katelyn Deverman was on the move. She is a live wire toddler — all action, all curiosity. However then, she was confined to her room with a stomach "bug," which is not at all unusual for a kid with a compromised immune system. Her 8-month pregnant mom, Krystal, and dad, Todd, did their best to keep her occupied with boxes and boxes of toys and books. But, on this day, even Dr. Seuss' Hop on Pop is not having its usual calming effect.
"Doctors told us that our little girl Katelyn – who was only 15 months at the time – had a rare form of leukemia called acute megakaryocytic leukemia," says Todd.
"For the next seven months, Rady Children's became our second home. We literally lived here," Krystal admits. "It wasn't easy – but the doctors and nurses at Rady Children's were with us every step of the way. Every single staff member involved in Katelyn's care was amazing."
Because part of Katelyn's treatment involved undergoing heavy-dose chemotherapy that caused her immune system to be completely wiped out, going home wasn't an option. Without an immune system, even a simple cold or common household germs could have been life-threatening.
After completing five rounds of chemotherapy, Katelyn went into remission. The treatment worked and Krystal and Todd were finally able to take their sweet daughter home.
"We are forever grateful to Rady Children's Hospital for saving our daughter's life. They provided specialized diagnosis, care and treatment to Katelyn when her life depended on it," says Krystal. "Our difficult journey has ended – but for other parents at Rady Children's, their journey is just beginning."
Katelyn's spirit is symbolic of what goes on day in and day out in the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. It's the spirit of compassionate care exuded by the caregivers.
It's the fighting spirit of the families as they battle their children's monsters.
It's the spirit of empathy and support flowing freely from family to family.
Above all, it's a spirit of hope. On February 6, 2009, during a typical 12-hour shift in the Peckham Center, some battles ended in a draw, but many others were won.