CMC gives family plan of attack for leukemia

By: Tom Campbell Email
By: Tom Campbell Email

News 12 caught up with three-year-old Molly Johnson on a warm spring evening, romping in her family's backyard with her older sisters Abby and Emily. Her young life hasn't always been this much fun.

Around her second birthday, she complained of pain in her arm. That led to bloodwork and a trip to the Children's Medical Center.

"They did some blood draws," said Molly's mother Amy. "They wanted to do a bone marrow aspiration the next day. So they checked us into the hospital that day...performed the bone marrow aspiration the next day. By that afternoon, they let us know Molly had acute lymphoblastic leukemia."

Devastating news for any parent, they were told that her white blood cells were taking over the bone marrow, and that it could be potentially deadly in a short time if not treated.

Molly's dad, an army doctor at Eisenhower Hospital, knew about medical problems, but this was his youngest child.

"You have sort of a different insight in putting together success rates and things like that. But when it's your kid, all that goes out the door," he said. "It becomes an emotional experience. A little bit of knowledge helps, and a little bit of knowledge also hurts."

In late 2008, doctors at MCG gave the family a treatment book that let them know what to expect.

"And it broke it down into phases and months and days," Amy said. "That made it a lot easier to process. We had a plan of attack. I knew how it was going to go. Still fearful as to how Molly was going to react to all the different drugs. Within the first four weeks of her treatment, she was actually in remission. It just takes an almost additional two years to keep it that way."

So as Molly and her sisters enjoy their backyard fun, that's where the family is now, long term maintenance until February 22, 2011.

That means monthly visits to the pediatric cancer clinic, plus chemotherapy in Molly's spine every third month.

Some sisterly love goes a long way too.

"I try to play with her every day, and when she's upset, I give her a a big hug to make her feel better," said Molly's sister Emily.

"I go meet her on the playground," said her other sister Abby.

It's obvious that the bond is strong, and so is the love. This is a family that learned a lot about the family centered care at the Children's Medical Center.

"Definitely," Amy said. "Molly's had very few hospital stays. We've been lucky that way. When we do go there, kids are welcome any time. There's an extra bed for Mom and Day to stay in. In fact, they encourage that. As far as visitors, everyone who's healthy can come down. It makes it a lot easier for the child and the parents down there too."

Molly's father has an unusual insight. He's a fellow doctor with a world of knowledge about medicine, but here, he's a little girl's dad.

"Any time you take care of another doctor, if you don't know them, there's a little intimidation factor," he said. "You know they know what you know, to some degree. They're good docs down there. Maybe I'm easier than some of the other families. I'm just happy with the care they provide. I don't give 'em any static at all. They've done a great job with Molly. All they hear from me is positive."

That brings us back to Molly, who takes her meds every day, goes to pre-school twice a week, and loves to play dress up, a little girl with a bright future, and a 94 percent cure rate.

She also has a grateful mom who now knows that you can get through something like this as a family.

"You do it with your nurses and your doctors...the fabulous staff at Children's Medical Center," Amy said. "The information and the amount of caring they give you and your entire family...it's very doable. You will get through it, and we're very lucky to have this facility here in our town."

Lucky indeed. With people who continue to care about all the future Mollys, we always will be. And years from now, another little girl, like Molly, will be smiling and laughing too, with a new chance at life.


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