Patient Stories

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Five Years After Her Brain Tumor Surgery, Liesel Is Graduating From Harvard

Liesel Von Imhof at Harvard

Liesel Von Imhof will graduate from Harvard with a degree in stem cell biology in May 2021, five years after Seattle Children’s neurosurgeons removed her brain tumor.

As a high school freshman, Liesel Von Imhof had a dream of attending college at Harvard. She packed her schedule with challenging classes and participated in varsity sports such as cross-country running and cross-country skiing. She had occasional, debilitating headaches that sometimes caused her to miss school, but she blamed them on stress, dehydration or low blood sugar.

In July 2016, just before her senior year of high school, Liesel’s dream of Harvard was almost derailed when doctors found the reason for her headaches: a Ping-Pong ball-sized tumor in the middle of her brain.

At the urging of her doctors, Liesel, then age 17, and her parents traveled from their home in Anchorage, Alaska, to Seattle Children’s.

Thanks to the care she received here, the support of her family and friends, and her own determination, Liesel is graduating from Harvard this month with a degree in stem cell biology — her first step toward a career in medicine.

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How Seattle Children’s Turned One Family’s Devastation Into Hope

When Cassie Fannin was 19-weeks pregnant with her first baby, she couldn’t wait for the ultrasound that would reveal her child’s gender. During the appointment, she and her husband, Michael, were delighted as they watched their beautiful baby wiggling around on the ultrasound screen.

Fannin asked the technician, “Is it a boy or girl?”

But the technician’s previously cheerful expression now suggested something was wrong. “I’ll need to check with the doctor,” the technician said while hurrying out of the room.

Moments later, a doctor gave Fannin and her husband the devastating news that changed their lives.

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Community Gathers to Cheer for Mercy on Her Way to Seattle Children’s for Last Round of Chemo

At 16 years old, Mercy Haub, was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma. She just finished her last round of chemotherapy at Seattle Children’s.

Mercy chronicles her journey through Instagram.

Mercy Haub has wanted to cure cancer since she was 7 years old.

“The irony of it all is unbelievable,” she said.

Today, at 16 years old, that mission still drives her, but now it hits closer to home, more so than she could have ever imagined.

A week before the statewide lockdown went into effect in Washington, Mercy began to feel sick. An assortment of unusual symptoms compounded on one another. She felt weak and fatigued, experienced chest pain and rashes. The symptoms persisted and eventually doctors were able to determine the insidious cause: cancer. Read full post »

When Your Child’s Life Is in Someone Else’s Hands: The Williamses Put Their Trust in Seattle Children’s Surgical Team

Kelli Williams gives her son, Isaac, who has been in remission for two years after undergoing treatment for stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma, a piggyback ride in the rain.

Kelli Williams holds her son, Isaac, who has been in remission for two years after undergoing treatment for stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma.

On July 19, 2017, Kelli and Dennis Williams sat in a pre-op room at Seattle Children’s with their 22-month-old son, Isaac. Kelli hugged her little boy close. He was dressed in a yellow hospital gown, happily playing with the iPad Child Life had loaned him. Kelli and Dennis did their best to appear calm in front of their son, but inside they were terrified.

Isaac had stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma. He’d already been through four months of chemotherapy and now Dr. John Waldhausen, a surgeon specializing in neuroblastoma cases, was going to remove a tumor the size of a navel orange from his abdomen.

“I had been so focused on managing Isaac’s treatment plan that it didn’t hit me until that morning that my son was about to be lying on an operating table,” remembered Kelli. “I just held him and tried not to cry.”

The day before Isaac’s surgery, the Williamses invited their family members and their church pastor into their home.

“We all circled around Isaac,” said Kelli. “Our pastor prayed over him, he prayed for Dr. Waldhausen, that his hands and his team would get out exactly what needed to come out, and nothing more.”

As they waited in the pre-op room, Kelli and Dennis realized it would be the last time they would see Isaac’s smooth, flawless belly. After surgery, he would have a large scar, stretching from hip to hip and up to his chest, a permanent reminder of his illness.

“I lifted up his shirt and tickled his stomach before he went in, knowing it would never look the same,” remembered Dennis. “It made me pretty sad.”

When a nurse came to get Isaac, Kelli reluctantly handed over her child.

“We’re going to take good care of him,” the nurse kindly reassured her.

Isaac happily waved goodbye to his mom and dad, and they kept up their smiles until he was out of sight. Then Kelli broke down, letting out all the tears she’d been holding back. Read full post »

Leaving “No Stone Unturned” for Children with High-Risk Leukemia

Henry Lawrence (left) with nurse coordinator, Shauna Sinclair. Henry received care for aggressive acute myeloid leukemia as part of Seattle Children’s High-Risk Leukemia Program.

There are two fateful phone calls Robin Lawrence will always remember.

The first, an unexpected late-night call from her son’s pediatrician. He had just reviewed the results from his recent blood work, and something was off. The doctor instructed Robin to immediately take then 13-month-old Henry to the nearest children’s hospital to get it checked out. He said that they had to consider it could be cancer.

She remembered thinking in the moment, “That’s ridiculous. Of course, he doesn’t have cancer.”

Days later, Henry was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), an aggressive childhood cancer.

The second call occurred not long after Henry’s leukemia returned for a third time. At the time, Henry was in between treatments. Another round of chemotherapy had temporarily put the cancer into remission, but the Lawrences knew the statistics were not in their favor. The likelihood the leukemia would come back was high.

Their conversation was the first of many with Dr. Todd Cooper, co-interim division chief of Seattle Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center and director of Seattle Children’s High-Risk Leukemia Program, as part of a second opinion service the program offers.

By the end of the call, Robin and her husband, David, knew Seattle Children’s was the best place for Henry should the cancer ever come back. In the coming weeks, they decided to move from their home in Southern California to Seattle for Henry’s medical care.

“When we talked to Dr. Cooper, it was very clear to us that Seattle Children’s is on the forefront of cutting-edge research and treatments for pediatric high-risk leukemia,” Robin said. “Our son’s cancer was in remission, but we understood that it was very likely to recur. We wanted to be in Seattle, ready to get whatever the best care for Henry would be when that time came.” Read full post »

From Patient Family to Employee, Rachel Robinson is Grateful for Seattle Children’s

Rachel Robinson and her family were on a family camping trip when she started to notice something was amiss with her son, Eli. He appeared pale, a hint of green to his complexion, and he was covered in bruises. His identical twin seemed fine, which added to Robinson’s concern.

She called their pediatrician, and they were advised to go to Seattle Children’s as soon as possible. After a blood test, doctors discovered something unimaginable. Eli had cancer.

“It’s something you think is never going to happen to you,” Robinson said. “You wonder if you did something wrong. It was surreal.” Read full post »

Santa Makes Virtual Visits to Seattle Children’s, Music Therapists Sing Carols

This year has been especially difficult for patients and families at Seattle Children’s. Spending time in the hospital is typically not a fun experience, and so for families who have to be inpatient during the holidays, the season may not feel as merry. To help spread joy and brighten up the holidays for children in the hospital, the Child Life team at Seattle Children’s found a new way for Santa to zoom into the hospital this year: they arranged virtual visits, because even during a pandemic, Santa wanted kids in the hospital to know he was thinking about them.

For Melissa Strilecki, 2020 has been more than a difficult year.

“2020 has been the worst year of our lives,” she said.

In May 2020, 3-year-old Hazel came down with what their family thought was a virus. At first, her symptoms didn’t seem insidious. She had a fever and was throwing up. A week later she started complaining of leg pain.

“She was in terrible pain,” Strilecki said. “We couldn’t even pick her up without her crying out.”

They called their pediatrician, and they were advised to take her to Seattle Children’s Emergency Department. At first, they thought her symptoms may have been caused by a bone infection, but after further testing, they received an unimaginable diagnosis: malignant cancer.

“You are told cancer is rare,” Strilecki said. “But it didn’t feel very rare.”

They were devastated. Read full post »

Option To Freeze Ovarian Tissue Gives Young Cancer Patients Hope for Future Fertility

Faye Prekeges’s senior photo, taken one year before her cancer diagnosis. Faye was the first patient at Seattle Children’s to have her ovary removed and frozen to try to preserve her fertility while undergoing treatment for high-risk leukemia.

At 19, Faye Prekeges was not planning for parenthood. She was a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She spent her days thinking about majoring in French and dreaming of working with the United Nations Refugee Agency, not about whether she wanted to be a mother one day.

But an unexpected diagnosis changed all that.

Six weeks into her second semester, Faye began having high fevers and visited the university’s health clinic. Providers suggested she had the flu and would feel better in about a week, but her symptoms quickly grew worse. A few days later, she woke up with a fever of 104 degrees.

Faye thought to herself, “I need to see a doctor now.” She took an Uber to Boston Medical Center’s Emergency Department and tested positive for mononucleosis. They kept her overnight because her white blood cell count was abnormally low.

“Luckily, the woman looking at my slides noticed what she thought were blast cells (primitive, undifferentiated blood cells, often found in the blood of people with acute leukemia) and sent them to the pathologist, who confirmed they were,” Faye said.

She was transferred to Boston Children’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed with high-risk B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Faye said. “I feel like, this happened to me and my family because we are strong enough to get through it.” Read full post »

Malachi Gets Special Garbage Day Surprise

Tuesdays are 2-year-old Malachi Stohr’s favorite days. Every Tuesday, rain or shine, Whitney Stohr and Malachi bundle up and wave to the garbage men as they empty the garbage bins at the end of the driveway. Malachi and Whitney then take a walk around the neighborhood, following the big green truck along its route. Malachi loves garbage day, and so when Seattle Children’s found out, they got in touch with Waste Management to plan a special surprise.

“So much of Malachi’s life is scheduled around his medical needs,” Stohr said. “He spends many days in the hospital, in clinics, in therapy. We’re eternally grateful to have that level of care available to us. We are thankful to have such ready access to the services at Seattle Children’s and in our local community. But, at the end of the day, Malachi is just a typical toddler. He loves big trucks and watching the trash bins go up and down, up and down.” Read full post »

Two Brothers, Four Transplants, One Strong Family

Logan (left) and Connor Brown at Turnagain Arm in Alaska. The brothers have both received kidney and liver transplants at Seattle Children’s.

“I hate to tell you this, but your son needs a kidney transplant.”

Those words left Rob and Patty Brown dumbstruck.

It was October 2008. That day their 6-year-old son, Connor, had complained that his feet were cramping during hockey practice. Later that evening, his hands and feet completely locked up — a condition called tetany.

“We raced him to the emergency room thinking it was just something silly,” Rob remembers.

It wasn’t something silly. Connor was diagnosed with nephronophthisis, a rare genetic disorder that leads to kidney failure.

Little did the Browns know this was just the beginning of a long and frightening journey, not only for Connor but for their younger son, Logan, as well — a journey that would lead to four transplants and would test their strength as a family.

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