Family survives every parent’s nightmare

Every parent’s worst nightmare came true for Flint and Stephanie on what began as a typical Monday morning when they discovered their 16-month-old daughter Hannah Kate had a rash on the back of her legs. Flint said he wasn’t too worried at first. He was planning to take her to the pediatrician that afternoon, and they went about their normal routine. Stephanie was a teacher and it was her first day back at school to begin a new year, so he dropped Hannah Kate off at the daycare before heading to work himself. It wasn’t long, though, he said before the daycare called to say that Hannah Kate’s rash was a lot worse, so he decided to go get her and take her to pediatrician Dr. Anjum Hussein right away.

Dr. Hussein took one look at the rash and sent her immediately next door to the hospital for blood work, which for a 16-month-old was very traumatic, Flint said. Afterward, he decided to take Hannah Kate out to get something to eat and to calm her down a little, but before they had even gotten there, Dr. Hussein called and told him to come right back. When he got there, she met him at the door herself and told him his baby needed to see a hematologist/oncologist immediately because she thought Hannah Kate had leukemia. She told him to take her back to the hospital right away. Stephanie met them there, and from there they went to Palms West where they met Dr. Michele Singer of Palm Beach Pediatric Oncology.

Dr. Singer said that unfortunately she agreed with Dr. Hussein and believed Hannah Kate had leukemia. She wanted to do a bone marrow aspiration and other tests right away. When the tests came back, it was clear that Hannah Kate had acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which Flint said is the most common type. Now, said Dr. Singer, it was time to choose a hospital.

A friend, whose son had been treated for an illness at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, suggested they ask the doctor about the possibility of taking her there, so Flint asked her about it. She explained that St. Jude is a research hospital and if she was accepted, it would be a research protocol. It’s in Memphis, she said, but it’s a great hospital. She called St. Jude, and explained the situation, and they agreed to take Hannah Kate. Now Flint and Stephanie had a tough decision to make. Flint had to work. He had just changed positions within the company where he was employed, and he would not be able to spend much time in Memphis. Stephanie would be up there on her own. Finally, they asked Dr. Singer, who had a 16-month-old son of her own, what she would do, and she said she would choose St. Jude. That settled it, said Flint. He turned to Stephanie and said, “I’ve heard all I need to hear.” Stephanie said, “So have I.”

On Wednesday afternoon, he and Hannah Kate were on a Learjet headed to Memphis and Stephanie was on her way home to pack. Flint said when they arrived at St. Jude, he knew immediately they’d made the right choice. “They wheeled her in and started working. They were all so understanding and kind. We met Dr. Tonja Gruber on Thursday morning,” he said. “She was very empathetic, competent, smart and personable. You knew she would do a great job for you.”

They were there that first time from Aug. 24, 2011, through Dec. 16, 2011. “We went from a normal Monday to living in another state in three days,” he said. It was a very long treatment, but it was successful. They were home after the first round of treatment for only three weeks, then had to go back again. “It was the best decision we ever made in our lives,” he said. “Not only was the treatment state-of-the-art, but the care is amazing. They even gave us GROCERY money every week. We never paid one dollar in the three years she was under their care. After her treatment ended, Hannah Kate entered the maintenance phase, which lasted two- to two-and-a-half years. They traveled back and forth periodically for checkups and, in between, she saw Dr. Singer, who collaborated with St. Jude, and deferred to Dr. Gruber in all areas of Hannah Kate’s treatment.

Hannah Kate is 9 years old now, and Flint said you would never know anything had ever been wrong. She is living a normal life, and their nightmare is over.

The 10th annual St. Jude Palm Beach Dinner to benefit children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will be Wednesday, April 3, at Club Colette in Palm Beach. Hannah Kate will be sharing her experience at this dinner. Philanthropic opportunities and tickets to the St. Jude Palm Beach Dinner are available. For more information, contact Ligia Santos at 305-537-1429 or visit stjude.org/palmbeachdinner.

Because of events like these, families at St. Jude never receive a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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