Liam with Kelly Clickner, RN, CCRC Clinical Research Associate at Albany Medical Center.
By Dr. Vikramjit Kanwar, pediatric oncologist and St. Baldrick’s infrastructure grant recipient
When Liam was born, he appeared to be a healthy baby. He spit up a little more often than expected, but neither of his parents were worried until he began vomiting almost continuously. They took him to the ER at Albany Medical Center and a CT scan showed his liver riddled with tumor.
Liam quickly had surgery and a tissue sample was sent to the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) Biopathology Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio. The test revealed that Liam had a high-risk form of neuroblastoma — the hardest to cure.
Pediatric oncologist Jennifer Pearce explained the diagnosis. “It’s a very rare disease,” Dr. Pearce told them. “Out of 60 million kids in the U.S., about 600 are diagnosed each year.”
Some children have a less aggressive type of neuroblastoma that can be treated with minimal therapy. But for others it is much more aggressive. “Our world was completely devastated,” said Gloria, Liam’s grandmother.
Because of a grant from the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, Albany Medical Center had over 40 COG clinical trials open, including several exclusively for this rare type of childhood cancer. On a COG clinical trial, patients like Liam receive either the best treatment known or a treatment that has been tested extensively and is hoped to offer a better outcome.
After six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy as well as bone marrow transplantation, Liam appeared to be in remission, but because his tumor couldn’t be surgically removed, they weren’t certain how long he would stay that way.
Dr. Pearce shared a new kind of treatment for neuroblastoma called immunotherapy, which COG studies have shown to increase survival rates from 45 to 65 percent. Because of St. Baldrick’s funding, immunotherapy was available in Albany instead of the family traveling hundreds of miles each week to Boston or New York City.
At this news, Liam’s mother, Kristine, felt a ray of hope. “I was excited,” she said. “I had read about it, but didn’t know if we could get it at Albany Medical Center.”
As he sits on a hospital bed playing “peek-a-boo” with a plastic bowl, everyone is acutely aware that Liam has a while to go before his cancer can be declared cured, but because of advancements in research and treatment, he has a fighting chance.
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