Something to Celebrate
Stem cell transplant cures Indiana child with high-risk leukemia
Laura Ludlow will never forget the day she turned 36. During a birthday lunch with her family on April 12, 2010, she answered a call from her children's pediatrician. Her four-year-old daughter, Mya, had leukemia.
Earlier that day, Laura brought Mya into the pediatrician's office because the little girl wasn't getting better while on medication for an ear infection. She was tired and wouldn't eat. The doctor, of Franciscan St. Anthony's Health in Crown Point, Ind., ordered blood tests.
"She told us go to Comer Children's Hospital right away," Laura remembered. Laura and David Ludlow left their home in Lake Village, Ind., arriving at UChicago Medicine children's hospital with their daughter late that afternoon.
Further analysis of Mya's blood cells by University of Chicago Medicine hematopathologists (pathologists who specialize in diseases of the blood) showed that Mya had an unusual form of T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) that carries an extremely high risk of relapse.
"We knew from these results that a stem cell transplant gave Mya the best chance of cure," said hematologist/oncologist John Cunningham, MD, director of hematopoetic stem cell transplantation at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital.
Mya's older brother, Bradley, was screened for matching genes and found to be a 100 percent match. "The chance of this outcome is only one in four, or less," explained Cunningham. "Our team was thrilled to give Mya's parents the good news."
Lifesaving "Bubba Juice"
In late July, after completing chemotherapy conditioning treatment, Mya underwent the transplant. Her brother's stem cells, which Mya nicknamed "bubba juice," were harvested from his hip bones during a 40-minute procedure. Bradley, eight years old at the time, doesn't remember much about the process, just that it "hurt a little to walk for a few days."
Laura says that Mya -- who prefers purple and pink, always wears a flower in her hair and wants to be a fashion designer someday -- stayed tough throughout her treatment. Mya also kept her sense of humor, calling Dr. Cunningham "Dr. Ham," then giving her grandparents the nicknames "scrambled eggs" and "bacon."
A Lifetime of Care
Today, Mya is free of leukemia. "The chance of the disease recurring is almost nil," Cunningham said. "However, we are vigilant at watching for any long-term side effects." Mya transitioned to the Childhood Cancer Survivors Center at Comer Children's two years ago. Aimed at preventing and treating late effects related to cancer therapy, this unique program provides personalized, long-term, comprehensive care for survivors and conducts studies to examine and improve their health.
Mya's parents are pleased that researchers in the survivors' program are collecting data about their daughter's treatment, recovery and quality of life. "All of the advances that came along before Mya got sick led to up her stem cell transplant," Laura said. "Now, we want to do anything we can to help other children. We want to pay it forward."
On April 9, 2014, almost four years to the day after being diagnosed with leukemia, Mya Ludlow and John Cunningham, MD, recorded a radio commercial about her successful treatment at Comer Children's. "Mya had a great time at the taping," said her mom, Laura. "She doesn't remember much about being sick, but she'll remember this."
This story was featured as part of our Comer Children's 10th Anniversary celebration. » Learn more.