Haden was diagnosed as an infant with the most common childhood cancer, acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL), a form of leukemia that attacks the bone marrow. It is treatable in older children, but often fatal for infants. Haden had only a 20 percent chance of surviving to age 2.
“You just never think about your baby having cancer,” recalls Leslie, Haden’s mother. “It was a scary time for us.”
Back in 1995, leukemia patients would often relapse within nine months after treatment. According to Dr. ZoAnn Dreyer, medical director of the long-term survivor program at Texas Children’s Cancer Center®, the time had come for a revolutionary approach.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death among children, but today’s aggressive therapies and innovative support systems are greatly improving their odds.
Dreyer began a 46-week pilot program that called for intensified levels of chemotherapy never used on infants before. Previously, treatment for babies with ALL involved lower doses for an extended period of more than two years.
“We had to try to match the aggressiveness of the leukemia with a very intensive, aggressive treatment protocol,” says Dreyer.
Haden was one of the first patients to undergo this therapy. It has since become the national standard for treating all infants with ALL, and current infant survival rates are well above 50 percent.
The treatment has given kids like Haden a second chance—kids who just a few years ago had little hope. Today, he is full of energy and looks forward to starting sixth grade this year. At home, he and his younger brother Ragan have the makings of a rock band—Haden plays the drums and Ragan plays the electric guitar.
“It’s as if he knows what a great gift life is, because he almost lost it,” says Leslie.