Beating Uncommon Odds
Kaelyn and her family went to a few hospitals for second opinions on bone marrow transplants. “One hospital had given her very grim odds,” Kaelyn’s mother Susie recalls. “At Packard Children’s, her doctors said, ‘We can do better than that.’” The Zattos could have gone anywhere for treatment, but the health care team’s positive attitude and determination made them choose Packard Children’s.
Kaelyn and her family found that every care team at Packard Children’s is specially trained to support pediatric patients. And from playroom to school to patient room, every environment at Packard is designed just for children.
Kaelyn’s nurse practitioner, Karen Kristovich, was the care coordinator for the family. She was just one of the many pediatric caregivers who helped confirm for the Zattos that they had made the right choice. “The way they talk to you—understanding, gentle, reassuring—it was a world of difference,” recalls Kaelyn. “People in pediatrics are extra-cautious, extra-nice and extra-attentive. They go above and beyond without even questioning, not because they have to, but because they want to. We couldn’t have been happier about our choice.”
Kaelyn’s brother, Matthew, 16 months her senior, turned out to be an eligible bone marrow donor. His cells were harvested at Packard Children’s on April 27, 1999, and Kaelyn was transplanted with his cells that same day.
Bone marrow transplantations severely reduce or eliminate the patient’s immunity to diseases for several months after transplant. After Kaelyn’s bone marrow transplant, she and her family had to wait to see if her white blood cell count would recover to a level necessary to support her immune system. She had blood tests almost daily for 21 days. Sure enough, her white blood cell count did come back—on her mom’s birthday. Kaelyn endured routine side effects of the transplant, but was mostly well during her stay at Packard Children’s that lasted almost 40 days.
She spent the next 100 days recovering at the Ronald McDonald House, just a half-mile from Packard Children’s Hospital. Six months after her transplant, Kaelyn came back to Packard Children’s for a follow up visit, where she was given a clean bill of health.
But just a week later, Kaelyn developed an illness unrelated to her leukemia—an autoimmune hemolytic anemia with a rapid and life-threatening drop in her red blood cell count. She returned to the pediatric intensive care unit at Packard Children’s, where her condition was brought under control in just a few days.
Today, almost nine years later, Kaelyn works full-time while also attending college full-time for interior architecture and design. She’ll graduate in the summer of 2009. Most of all, Kaelyn says, “I like being able to do normal things, the normal day-to-day things that most people take for granted. Like sometimes when I go running at night I think, wow, I never thought I’d be here. To a large extent what I went through helped make me the person that I am. I feel motivated, and I count my blessings.”