Impossible Odds

Manuel was born 12 weeks early to first time parents of a small town in my state.  The trauma from needing a ventilator with such underdeveloped lungs led to permanent lung damage that required a tracheotomy to be placed.  A ventilator is hooked up to this small hole in his neck at all times.  He also was so young, part of his throat hadn’t formed right, necessitating that a feeding tube be placed for him to eat.  One complication after another, until an entire year passed in the children’s hospital I’m rounding at this month.  A year in the same crib, same room, same nurses.

Manuel’s mother came to this hospital when Manuel did, and hasn’t been back to her home since.  She spends each day with him, and each night at a Ronald McDonald home for parents with sick kids.  Her husband, to keep his job, lives hours away, only able to visit every few months.

As Manuel’s 1st birthday approached everyone was in good spirits, because it looked like he could finally go home. He’d still be on the breathing and feeding machine, with visiting nurses everyday to their home, but it would be home.  Manuel’s mother, who spoke no English when Manuel was born, now conversed with the nurses with ease about her delight to finally get out of the hospital.

They had to just do one more CT scan.

The CT scan showed the unthinkable, some spots on his liver that came back as liver cancer. Completely unrelated to his other medical problems, this child was unlucky enough to have a very rare cancer as well.  You can imagine what a hard conversation it was to sit Manuel’s mother down and tell her the news.

The nurses tell me that she took the news stoically as the doctor talked about options for chemotherapy that may cure the cancer, if his little body can survive the treatment.  The cancer is rare enough that someone as sick as Manuel has never been treated.  As soon as the doctor left though, her tears flowed strong and bitterly.

Manuel is due to start the chemo tomorrow.  His parents decided to give it a shot.  I watched Manuel today chewing on a plastic cap of his feeding tube, laying on his back in his crib, having never sat up, or put weight on his legs, having never said “da da” or even cooed. And now, despite all those setbacks, he has to battle cancer.  Doesn’t seem fair.

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