When Medical Crew Becomes Family
The last thing any parent would want to see is their child in pain. Many families, though, are not spared from this gut-wrenching experience. This is the story of then-nine-year-old John Kenneth Ching, his family, and the hospital personnel who took care of him.
In March 2014, Kenneth’s mother, Nini, asked her older son to change clothes for bed after a long session of playing basketball. It was then that she noticed a palm-sized bruise on his hip. She asked Kenneth about it and the child didn’t know how he got it. She pressed the bruise with her finger and asked if he felt pain. He answered no.
“When he said it didn’t hurt, I charged it to the rough games that boys play,” she said. “They skateboard, wrestle, play basketball… I figured getting a bruise here and there is normal.”
And then there were the unexplainable nose bleeds, which initially didn’t cause alarm because, Nini said, her husband’s side of the family were prone to them. When the nose bleeding became more frequent, Nini decided to have him tested.
When the complete blood count (CBC) results came out some time later, Kenneth’s platelet count was at 10,000. Normal blood count is between 150,000 and 250,000. When her husband told her of the results and the need to seek a hematologist, she thought he was joking. The search for a hematologist began that very day.
They rushed to the emergency room of a nearby hospital and were surprised that none of the attendants seemed too alarmed when shown the CBC results. After waiting for an hour in the emergency room of that hospital, they decided to transfer to St. Luke’s.
World of difference
Once they got to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Quezon City, they experienced what they thought should be the care given to their son upon seeing the blood test results.
“When we got there, everyone was fussing over him,” she narrated. “We showed the nurses and doctors the CBC results and they immediately required a repeat of the test to be sure. He was confined and the doctor ordered a platelet transfusion. The rest is history.”
After several more tests and rounds of transfusions, Kenneth became a candidate for Haplo-Identical Stem Cell Transplantation—the first pediatric recipient in the country. It turned out he had a rare blood disorder called Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS)—a bone marrow disorder commonly referred to as “preleukemia” because of its tendency to transform into acute myeloid leukemia (AML). It is rare in children, progresses fast, and can be fatal.
The conventional method of treatment for MDS is through a bone marrow transplant. A donor has to closely match a patient’s tissue type, specifically the human leukocyte antigen (HLA)—markers found on most cells in the body. The immune system uses these markers to recognize cells that belong to it versus those that do not. The closer the match between a patient’s HLA markers and the donor’s, the better the outcome. In most cases, doctors look for a nearly full or 100% match prior to bone marrow transplantation so that the new transplanted cells will not be rejected by the patient’s own cells. This was extremely difficult because in many cases, the potential donor with the closest match, such as the parent, is only a 50% match. A sibling is usually 25%. This was a disease that progressed fast and there was no time to waste. Kenneth needed a transplant as quickly as possible.
Haplo-Identical Stem Cell Transplantation
Luckily for Kenneth, St. Luke’s has two of the finest blood disorders specialists in the country: Dr. Allan Racho and Dr. Francis Lopez. It would be the first time they would be performing the Haplo-identical Stem Cell Transplantation on a child after doing it on a number of adult patients. The transplantation allows doctors to source stem cells from donors who are not 100% genetically matched.
Kenneth’s Hospital Family
Kenneth’s parents decided that his environment should be stress-free, his meals ultra-healthy to boost his immune system, and his requests fulfilled as much as possible.
Fortunately, Kenneth’s doctors and the St. Luke’s medical staff assigned to him shared the view that he should remain the happy kid he has always been. The frequent hospital visits and painful vein swelling because of the transfusions took their toll on the child and through it all, the hospital staff was with him.
Dr. Racho, in particular, seemingly cast a spell on the young man. Kenneth had grown so close to Dr. Racho that, when told his checkups won’t have to be as frequent, the child had sadly asked: “Does it mean I won’t have to see you as often, doc?”
“Some children are scared of their doctors. Kenneth wasn’t,” Nini said. She added that this was because of Dr. Racho’s genuine concern and care for his patients. The now 12-year-old Kenneth was one of the enchanted kids whose dreams can now come true.