Ryder McDermitt’s mom, Karrie, sensed something was wrong with her son from the time he was an infant. She became increasingly concerned when, at 16 months of age, Ryder seemed to be getting sick a lot but not recovering.
He seemed to do well when he was taking antibiotics but when he finished a course of medication, he would become sick again.
“It was as though he didn’t have an immune system to fight it off,” Karrie explains.
Two months later, Karrie noticed that Ryder he had begun to bruise easily, and as she became more concerned, she insisted that Ryder undergo blood testing to determine if there was an underlying cause for the bruising and his seemingly weakened immune system.
Worst Fears Confirmed
Karrie’s worst fears were confirmed when she received the devastating diagnosis. Ryder had Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a blood cancer that is more commonly diagnosed in adults and more challenging to treat in children.
It was June 2007, a time of year when Ryder should be playing outdoors. Instead, he was at Children’s Hospital where he underwent five rounds of intensive chemotherapy treatments.
A round of chemotherapy for Ryder involved being hospitalized for four to six weeks. During the first week, he would receive chemotherapy daily, and over the next three to five weeks, Ryder would recover. His length of stay in the hospital following each round of chemotherapy was dependent upon how sick he got from the treatment. After each round of chemotherapy, Ryder would go home for two weeks before starting all over again.
Following all five treatments, Ryder’s leukemia was in remission.
A Set Back
In August 2008, Karrie noticed that Ryder’s eye seemed to be swollen. She immediately called Children’s Hospital to have Ryder seen. His leukemia was back.
“He underwent a hard round of chemotherapy, and then we were able to go home for two weeks,” Karrie remembers. “When we came back to the hospital, he had five days of full-body radiation, and then three days of chemotherapy.”
Many children don’t survive the intensive radiation and chemotherapy because it severely weakens their immune system.
A Risky Procedure
In order to boost his immune system, Ryder had to under a risky cord blood stem cell transplant. The odds of finding a perfect match – which is ideal for a successful transplant – was nearly impossible but Children’s Hospital doctors found a perfect match through the National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank.
Physicians informed Ryder’s parents of the risks associated with the procedure transplant, and they knew that his chance of survival was slim but he underwent the cord blood stem cell transplant on October 17, 2008.
It would be a long recovery for him, but the transplant provided his family with hope.
The Journey Home
Over the next several weeks, Ryder made rapid progress and while he had to remain in Pittsburgh for a few more months, he was discharged from the hospital in late November.
He continued to make trips back to the hospital three days a week to undergo blood work and check-ups to ensure that he was still cancer free, and he was able to spend his first Thanksgiving outside of the hospital. His extended family traveled over two hours from their home in Duncansville, Pennsylvania, to Pittsburgh to celebrate the holiday with him and his mom.
Looking at Ryder, the family had much for which to be thankful.
At Christmas, and Ryder and his mom were permitted to go home to Duncansville for two days and, although the visit was brief, it was joyous and invigorating for both Karrie and Ryder.
Also during that month, Ryder received an injection of chemotherapy in his spine to further ward off the leukemia that nearly took his life. On March 20, 2009, Ryder and his mom moved back home but continued to make the monthly drive to Children’s Hospital to receive his chemotherapy injections until June 2009.
A Healthy, Happy Child
While his chemotherapy ended in June, its effects did not. That same month, while running and playing, Ryder fell and broke his arm that was left brittle from all of the chemotherapy he received. After surgery and two pins in his arm, Ryder is now good as new.
Now as a healthy, active four-year-old, Ryder continues to be monitored regularly and is thriving among family and friends.