by Joanne Shaw
It was a Fourth of July weekend Cathy and Gerald Hinman will never forget. Their 17-month-old son, Travis, had fallen in his crib, bumping his back on the railing--not such an unusual occurrence for an infant. But the bruises he sustained from the fall, especially the very large one on his back, alarmed his parents and numerous other family members who had gathered for a picnic and a swim.
The next day, a Sunday, the Hinmans asked their family physician to examine their baby. "Dr. Holtman took one look at Travis and said to take him to the local hospital for a blood test," said Mrs. Hinman, who lives with her family in New Braunfels, Tex. The results of the test prompted Harold Holtman, MD, to refer them to Howard A. Britton, MD, now a professor of pediatrics at the Health Science Center.
Arriving early the next morning at the downtown Santa Rosa facility, where Dr. Britton initiated the children's cancer center that was named in his honor in 1997, the parents learned for the first time that Travis' woes might be the result of leukemia. More tests at the hospital confirmed the initial diagnosis--Travis had ALL, acute lymphocytic leukemia. The "bruise" on his back was actually a hematoma, a lump under the skin containing effused blood.
If chemotherapy and radiation treatments were successful, the Hinmans were told, Travis had a 10 percent chance of living five years beyond remission of the disease. "And I thought, don't tell us this boy's not going to live more than five years!" exclaimed Mrs. Hinman, who felt then that their world was unraveling.
Travis immediately began receiving chemotherapy treatments intravenously and orally, radiation treatments and bone marrow aspirations in his pelvis (bone marrow removed from the pelvis for diagnostic examinations), which lasted for three years, all under the guidance of Dr. Britton.
"'Five years to live' was a standard diagnosis then," explained Dr. Britton. "But, we brought Travis along for many more years with pretty standard treatment. Fortunately, he had the type of leukemia, as seen from all of our studies, that is more sensitive to chemotherapy--why, we don't know."
"Dr. Britton was wonderful from day one," said Mrs. Hinman, the mother of three. "He was always comforting and said no question was a dumb one. He would kid us about Travis being the only patient who didn't try to cover his bald head. Well, he was already bald, so chemotherapy didn't cause him to lose any hair! My babies are always bald until they are 3 years old, anyway."
The days when Travis had bone marrow aspirations became known as "big owee days," and he actually looked forward to visiting the hospital. "It was our fault," said Mrs. Hinman. "We would take him to a toy store after a bone marrow procedure and let him get anything he wanted--within reason. That was our 'payback' to him. To this day, our two older children tease us about how Travis got such big presents and how they got such small ones." Travis underwent 14 bone marrow examinations over the three years.
Once a month, for several months, after all treatment was completed, Travis had blood tests to check for recurrence of the leukemia. "I was convinced it was going to come back," said his mother. Added his father, "As the months went by, the blood tests didn't show any signs of leukemia, and the time between tests became progressively longer."
Today, Travis is an active, robust, 18-year-old man with no signs of leukemia. He spent this summer working at Schlitterbahn Water Park after graduating 70th in his high school class of 460. For the past 10 years he has attended summer camps for children, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, where he has helped counsel other cancer patients. "I think this [leukemia] has helped mold me," said the long-term survivor. "I can help other people who are going through the same thing I've been through--I can tell them, 'It's going to get better.'"
Giving children new hope with new drugs
Children's cancer warning signs
Sustaining life with bone marrow
The Britton Center--everything under one roof
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