Radley was born in May of 2013, and he had the biggest feet any of the doctors or nurses had ever seen on a newborn. He was perfect and beautiful and we were scared. "How are we going to take care of this tiny little person?" Melissa and I wondered. We shouldn't have worried, Radley has made our job as parents incredibly easy. He hit all the milestones early, rolling over, crawling, walking, first teeth, first words. And what a charmer! I'm certainly biased, but everyone who meets Radley comments on his advanced vocabulary and how smart he is.
When Radley was nearly eighteen months old, Melissa found him in his crib with the entire left side of his face swollen and purple. By the time I left work and met them at the emergency room, some blood tests had come back showing very low counts of all blood cells. Our baby was very sick and it was most likely some form of leukemia.
At Dell Children's Hospital in Austin, they confirmed the diagnosis of Leukemia and began the process of determining the subtype. Of the four main types of Leukemia, Radley has the hardest one to treat. It's called AML or Acute Myeloblastic Leukemia. To be even more specific, Radley's classification is AML-M7, also called AMKL or Acute Megakaryo-blastic Leukemia. It's a very trickly cancer to treat. Radley started an aggressive regimen of chemotheraphy, and they begain searching for a suitable donor for a bone marrow transplat. Radley got half of his genetic information from Melissa, and the other half from me. That meant each of us was only a 50% match to Radley's marrow. Not having any siblings, Radley's donor would have to be a stranger from the donor registry. Also, they don't do bone marrow transplants in Austin, so we decided to bring him to Texas Children's Hospital in Houston when his chemotherapy was complete.
During the four rounds of chemo in Austin, Melissa and I quit our jobs and moved out of our apartment. We were able to get a room at Ronald McDonald House there, and take turns sleeping at the hospital. Each round of treatment left his immune system weaker and we constantly worried about getting sick and passing germs to him.
Now don't get me wrong, Ronald McDonald House does some great work, but they are just not set up for families with immunocompromised children. We can't use their group kitchens and their play areas are swamps of bacteria. What we needed was a clean, private house or apartment, isolated from the general public. Our social worker at the hospital in Houston got us into the Ronald McDonald House, and began searching for a place better suited to Radley's condition.
After the transplant Radley developed Graft vs. Host disease, where the donor marrow thinks the patient's body tissues are an infection and goes on the attack. GUHD is treated with immunosuppressant drugs, and this left Radley vulnerable to bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. We were terrified that he would catch a cold or worse at R.M.H.
Finally we found Project Joy & Hope. To say we were getting desperate and frustrated by that point is a huge understatement. Our options had been limited to dirty motel rooms and the McDonald House situation.
Upon meeting Miss Jan, I knew we had found someone who would help us. She took the time to learn the particulars of our situation. It's not often that I get to talk to someone who speaks so directly and really listens. Actually, the amount of direct eye contact was unsettling. Melissa and I agreed that it felt like Miss Jan was looking into our souls. I guess we passed inspection because we've been allowed to stay in a beautiful, clean, quiet home on Tulip Street.
And this place is perfect! We have our own kitchen and laundry; Radley has his own room. It's so quiet and private, but just a short drive to the medical center. There's even a playground with a slide! It's hard to express how grateful we are to Project Joy & Hope. Not having to worry about housing allows us to focus all our attention on taking care of Radley. Melissa can cook us healthy meals and Radley has room to play and have a semi-normal life. I looking forward to the day we can take Radley back home, but I'll be sad to leave such a wonderful place.
Daniel Pittman, Melissa & Radley McChristian