Karleigh Sackett is 18 months old. For almost one third of that time, she has been living with cancer. Karleigh was diagnosed after her mother Erin realized that 11-month-old Karleigh had stopped “cruising” by walking along the furniture and walls.
“She had lost the use of her legs,” Erin said. “We called her primary care physician and she referred us to an orthopedic doctor who then referred us to a neurologist at Golisano Children’s Hospital who performed an MRI and discovered Karleigh had a tumor pressing on her spine.”
It’s that coordination of expert pediatric care that Golisano Children’s Hospital is focusing on in its fundraising campaign. The $100 million campaign supports both a the building of a new children’s hospital and major enchancements to pediatric programs, such as pediatric cancer and pediatric surgery.
Karleigh’s first surgery took place almost immediately after her diagnosis. Thankfully, all of Karleigh’s procedures have been very successful.
Howard Silberstein, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon at Golisano Children’s Hospital, performed the initial surgery to operate on the tumor that was putting excessive pressure on Karleigh’s spinal cord.
“It needed to be done to prevent permanent damage to her spinal cord. Afterwards, she was able to use her legs again,” said Erin.
Following Karleigh’s surgery, she began chemotherapy to help combat the spread of cancer in her body. Lauren Bruckner, M.D., Ph.D., the coordinator for Karleigh’s treatment plan, stated that most young children tolerate chemotherapy quite well. And Karleigh is no exception. Erin said her daughter just keeps moving, “She just goes right along. I don’t think she realizes that people are supposed to feel sick and yucky after that, so she just presses on as best as she can, trying to be a normal kid.”
Erin’s feelings about her daughter’s chemotherapy have improved considerably over time. “The first time,” she says, “we went in for treatment it was a challenge as a parent. You have to sign a consent form to have these poisons, which are necessary to kill cancer, put into your child’s body. But to do nothing is not an option.”
Erin said that the relationships she and Karleigh have developed with the doctors and nurses at Golisano Children’s Hospital have helped to offset her fears: “Whenever we have needed them and reached out to them they have made themselves available to us. Everyone has just been wonderful. You gain a trust factor as time goes on.”
Karleigh is recovering wonderfully from her most recent major surgery – performed in mid-May by Golisano Children’s Hospital’s chief of pediatric surgery, Walter Pegoli, M.D., – which removed most of her tumor.
“She’s walking around the house, playing and happy, and just doing great,” Erin said, “We would hope that she wouldn’t need any treatment beyond the chemo cycles she has coming. We’re hoping all her cancer will be killed off by chemotherapy and her tumor will shrink.”
In speaking about the difficulties of helping a young child through cancer, Erin explained, “It definitely has its challenges. The advice that we would have is not to be afraid to ask questions, at all, ever. And because of that we’ve always felt that where she is at Golisano (Children’s Hospital), she’s getting the best care that she could get anywhere. Recognizing that and hearing that from other parents gets rid of the fears you might have for the treatments that are recommended for your children.”
Learn about how Golisano Children’s Hospital is aiming to enhance its Pediatric Oncology Division.