BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - In the spring, when Louisiana was preparing to fight COVID-19, Hayden White, 8, was preparing for the fight of his life.
It started with a pain in his leg. Hayden’s parents, Karen and Corey White, are physical therapists. They knew from the way he described the pain it was something more than just typical growing pains. The Whites took Hayden to his pediatrician to get checked out and x-rays revealed a mass near his knee. A biopsy confirmed the worst: Hayden had osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer.
“The worst thing you ever want to hear is your kid has cancer,” said Karen.
Within three weeks of that first doctor’s visit, Hayden was undergoing chemotherapy at the St. Jude Affiliate Clinic inside Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital. It’s a grueling treatment schedule spread out over eight months. His parents say the longest break he had between chemo was to allow for surgery to remove the mass. The surgery also required removing part of his femur and replacing it with a special prosthesis that can be manipulated to grow with him. His dad explains it as being similar to a knee replacement.
Between the chemo, the surgery, and recovery, the Whites have spent most of 2020 at the hospital.
“He is a trooper. He’s been fighting hard through all of it, but kept a smile on his face through all of it as well,” said Dr. Kacie Sims.
Dr. Sims is a specialist in pediatric hematology and oncology. She developed Hayden’s treatment plan. She says doctors in Baton Rouge may only see one or two cases like Hayden’s each year. In fact, Hayden’s case is unique even for such a rare cancer. Sims explains that the cancer usually manifests in teenagers, making Hayden the youngest osteosarcoma patient they’ve treated. However, because OLOL Children’s is a St. Jude Affiliate, Dr. Sims and others have access to all of St. Jude’s resources and experts, allowing them to provide the same cutting-edge treatment for their patients.
“We were able to talk to experts who see it multiple times a week to be able to know that we’re providing in the most up to date and most effective care,” said Dr. Sims.
The ability to get that treatment close to home has made such a difficult time a little easier for the Whites as well. Hayden’s mom says they were ready to move to Memphis to be closer to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital if needed. Now, it’s easier for Hayden to spend more time in his own bed when not in treatment.
“That is a huge blessing because our families are here. We don’t have that far to drive to come back and forth,” said Karen.
The Whites say another big help has been the hospital’s Child Life Services team. Their job is to make a hospital stay as comfortable and as normal as possible for kids. Hayden’s favorite activity is a weekly virtual bingo game among patients. It’s those games that Hayden most likes to talk about when you ask him about his hospital stays.
“I like to play games and I like to play bingo a lot and win prizes,” said Hayden.
He even has a favorite nurse, Mr. Jim, who’s known for wearing tutus and wings and coming up with elaborate characters.
“I think at the beginning, you have no clue how you’re going to get through it. It’s amazing how many people come out to support you. You have the hospital, you have the staff, you have people you just don’t even know,” said Karen.
Hayden has just a few more rounds of chemo left, although he’ll still need several more surgeries in the future to replace his prosthesis as he outgrows it. His family is sharing his story as part of the annual OLOL Mediathon with the hope it will inspire others to support the hospital, so the next child in need will have the same opportunity to heal.
”Never does he ever mention about how sick it makes him. The first thing he always tells us is, ‘I feel like I need to do something for the other kids,’” said Karen.
The Mediathon raises money for the OLOL Children’s Hospital and all its work. The 2020 Mediathon is scheduled for Nov. 19 and 20. You can donate online here.
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