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Struggling with Leukemia

Fellowship Story Showcase

Struggling with Leukemia

Picture of Liane Roth
Antelope Valley Press
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Like most 11-year-olds, Ruben Isom likes to hang out with his siblings, play baseball and go skateboarding with his best friends, Andrew and Arturo, and he even has a girlfriend — Cindy. But Ruben is undergoing aggressive chemotherapy at Children's Hospital Los Angeles for Acute myeloid leukemia, a deadly cancer that starts in cells that would normally develop into different types of blood cells. Clad in red and blue Spiderman pajamas and surrounded by futuristic-looking machines with tubes attached to his slender arm to deliver a cocktail of medications, Ruben described how his cancer was discovered last June.

"I had pain in my side and my heart started to hurt so I told my brother and he said to lay on the couch so I did," Ruben said, as the drugs coursed through his veins one day last week.

Later that day, while on an errand with his family, Ruben said his side started hurting again.

"I said, 'I want to get home and tell Mom.' She took me to the hospital and the doctor said I was really sick — he thought leukemia but he wasn't sure."

"I knew something was wrong when Ruben was rolling around and saying he hurt, he hurt," mother La Toyia Hampton said. "Of all my kids — Ruben is the sunny one, the one who never complains or says anything. I knew it was bad."

The emergency room doctor at Antelope Valley Hospital told Ruben's mother the problem looked like cancer so Ruben was referred to Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

They said they're going to give him the 'atomic bomb,' real hard chemo drugs to try to get rid of the cancer — but he desperately needs a bone marrow transplant as soon as possible. At this point — the cancer's back — in two months he needs a bone marrow transplant.

"He's in so much pain," she added, breaking into tears.

None of the 7 million registered donors are a match and neither are any of his seven siblings or any other relative, all of whom were tested to no avail.

Now, instead of finding donors for young cancer patients she meets at Children's Hospital, Hampton is looking for a match for her son before it is too late.

"Ruben is a great kid — he makes me smile every time I go into his room," said Dr. Etan Orgel, Children's Hospital pediatrics hematology/oncology clinical fellow, who is one of several doctors known to spend time playing video games with Ruben.

"Ruben's way better at Wii Sports than I am," the doctor said with a chuckle. "He's an inspiration to many other children on the f oor with the same or similar conditions.

"According Ruben's doctors, even with the latest round of powerful chemotherapy — consisting of three potent cancer-killing medications — f nding a donor quickly may be Ruben's last chance.

"He's undergone the standard treatment — unfortunately it came back so we're pursuing another form of treatment — his condition is very serious," Orgel said. "The bottom line — we know kids with this type of cancer need a bone marrow transplant. The only life-saving modality to get (Ruben) into remission is a bone marrow transplant.

"Once a donor is found, Ruben will undergo radical chemotherapy treatment for f ve days to wipe out the cancerous cells.

That means complete isolation from the outside world since the "magic bullet" concoction takes out the body's immune system as well.

"Once the cancer is in remission we can do the transplant," Dr. Orgel said. "The only way to get rid of the cancer is to get him a bone marrow transplant. It's the only life-saving procedure we have at this time."