Three years after his bone marrow transplant, Tyler remains in remission
When he was 10, Tyler played nearly every sport—basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer. He excelled at track and field. But for an entire month in the fall of 2017 he could barely drag himself to school. He would nap as soon as he got home. He complained that his chest was tight, and breathing was hard.
Worried, his mom took him to their family doctor in Scarborough for blood work. That evening, immediately after seeing the results, the doctor told them to go directly to the emergency department at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).
“The doctor had me write down words like ‘hemoglobin’, ‘white blood cell count’, ‘blasts’ and a bunch of numbers—all of this was foreign to me at the time,” says Tyler’s mom, Melody. “Then she said, ‘Give that piece of paper to reception as soon as you get there. You need to go right now.’ She didn’t tell me what she suspected; she wanted me to be able to drive.”
At SickKids, Tyler was diagnosed with leukemia, which is cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The news hit hard, but after some tears, Tyler focused on the task at hand: treatment. Chemotherapy began almost immediately, and after one round he was in remission.
The family’s elation was short-lived. Further testing revealed that Tyler had Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), a rarer form which, in Tyler’s case, required a bone marrow transplant (BMT). It’s an intensive treatment in which diseased marrow is replaced with healthy donor stem cells. The procedure is risky and hard on the body. Patients may reject the donor cells. They may bleed excessively. Their immune systems have been decimated, so they’re extremely susceptible to infections. They must be isolated in their room for weeks or even months.
Tyler’s older brother, Jahni, donated his stem cells for the transplant. Even though he was a half-match, the transplant worked beautifully.
After a gruelling recovery, Tyler finally got to go home, six months after his diagnosis. Nearly three years later, he remains in remission and has become reacquainted with playing basketball.
SickKids’ Bone Marrow Transplant and Cellular Therapies Program performs more than half of all paediatric BMTs in Canada, mostly for cancer patients who have exhausted standard treatment options. It’s the biggest paediatric BMT program in the country, and among the largest in North America. But the unit is in desperate need of an upgrade.
When Tyler checked in for his BMT, it was to an undersized room with an outdated air filtration system. Patients spend at least a month in isolation to protect them from infections. They have no access to in-room washrooms, and there’s no space for a parent to comfortably support them at the bedside. SickKids is building a new BMT unit for kids like Tyler, with bigger rooms, more privacy and more comfort for patients and families.
Torstar, the Star’s parent company, is in a fundraising and educational partnership with the Hospital for Sick Children to help raise $1.5 billion for new facilities. This content was produced by Sick Kids as part of that partnership.