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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Going the Distance for Neuroblastoma Expertise

For Yano Pournaras, age 2-1/2 didn't bring the running and jumping of toddlerhood, but instead brought hip and knee pain, limping and fevers.

"We didn't know why," said Billy Pournaras, Yano's father. Yano was admitted to a hospital in South Carolina to try and decode his symptoms, only to be misdiagnosed as a bacterial infection. Yano was sent home, but returned to the hospital within a week as tumors started growing on Yano's forehead, and his eyelids turned a disconcerting yellow-red color.

"Not only would he have one of the authorities on neuroblastoma treating him—it's a great hospital."

After completing a CT scan at Pournaras' request, the doctors discovered the culprit behind Yano's health problems: a neuroblastoma pressing on Yano's spine. Pournaras got online and researched treatment options for his son, landing at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital with Susan Cohn, MD, director of clinical research, section of pediatric hematology and oncology.

"This is the place I wanted him to go," Pournaras said. "Not only would he have one of the authorities on neuroblastoma treating him -- it's a great hospital." And with Yano's grandparents also living in Chicago, the choice was even easier, as Yano could be in a familiar environment while undergoing treatments or between hospital stays.

"When we evaluated him, it was clear that the disease had spread," explained Cohn. "He had stage 4 neuroblastoma, which is the high-risk form of the disease. With intensive treatment approximately 40% of children with high-risk neuroblastoma can be cured."

In August 2010, after 19 months of treatment, three major surgeries, months of chemotherapy, radiation, a stem cell transplant and immunotherapy, which the little boy endured with a smile, blowing kisses and flirting with the nurses, his dad said, Yano was released from the hospital. He's been in remission since.

With the intensive therapy that Yano experienced, and the high-risk nature of the disease, Cohn noted, Yano will need to be monitored for relapse in the years to come. We will also be closely evaluating Yano for signs of toxicity from the therapy he endured.

But in the meantime, noted Pournaras, "He's full of energy, won't stop talking. We're very pleased, and for him to have a second chance at life is amazing."