'They saved my first baby's life'

Katherine Kennedy and her daughter, Kellian, at Kellian's graduation ceremony
Katherine Kennedy and her daughter, Kellian, at Kellian's graduation ceremony Photo courtesy of Katherine Kennedy

My beautiful daughter was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 11 years old. We were lucky she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) ― if one is going to get leukemia, this is the one that has the highest cure rate. The year was 1996.

She went through a grueling three-year protocol. After her last treatment, we were told she was cancer-free. I was ecstatic; I pulled my car over and cried like a 2-year-old in the midst of a temper tantrum ― it was cathartic.

Later that same day (because man plans and God laughs), I was told that she relapsed; there were blasts in her blood. I did not cry.

It took us 30 days to get her back in remission. We were at the University of Maryland hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for the wonderful people who helped my daughter and our family work through leukemia. I will name just a few: Dr. Franz, Dr. Eskonazi, and many incredible nurses ― Diane Wells, Katie Peterson, so many more.

The last thing that the social worker did for me in Baltimore was answer a question. I understood that Baltimore could not help me anymore, so my question was what hospital or institution had the highest cure rate and the lowest mortality rate.

The answer was the Hutch in Seattle, Washington.

I'm the mom, a very strong Irish woman who was determined to do everything possible to save my firstborn’s life. Dr. Jean Sanders [of Fred Hutch] took my hands, and looked me straight in the eye. She said: You do as I say, and you follow all my directions that I and the other staff members give you, and I promise she will have the best chance to survive.

I won't go through all the ups and downs of what my first baby endured because we were lucky, my baby was cured. The Hutch and Dr. Sanders gave my child life. 

When we arrived at the Hutch my child's blood type was O-positive; it is now B-positive. I still find this one fact so amazing, 16 years later. I do not know who donated the lifesaving stem cells that ultimately saved her life and changed her blood type! (I know he was a military man who lived in Germany.)

I saw my daughter graduate from high school and college, and I was there when she received her master’s degree in history. She was married in 2014. She and her husband are in the process of adopting a child.

My daughter's name is Kellian. She was named after an Irish saint who lived and worked in Germany. The Irish in me knows that Saint Killian made sure that he sent her his best and the rest was up to her. (Well, maybe my Catholic upbringing had some influence too.) But when push comes to shove, I will always love the Hutch and the beautiful Dr. Jean Sanders, because they saved my first baby's life.

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