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Peter Anderson MD, PhD, director of pediatric hematology, oncology, and blood and marrow transplant at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Children’s Hospital, recreated traditional cancer treatment in an effort to save the life of a young Jehovah’s Witness patient who would not survive otherwise.
When Lyla Juarez was 18 months old, her parents noticed a change in both her personality and health. Little Lyla was unhappy; she cried all the time, had difficulty eating and was not her usual playful self.
A visit to Levine Children’s Hospital confirmed her parent’s worst fear – Lyla had cancer. Lyla was very sick with neuroblastoma, a rare cancer that affects just 600 children per year in the United States. The massive tumor was wrapped around the major blood vessels in her abdomen. Lyla was so weak and her belly so large that she could no longer walk.
For most patients with this kind of tumor, a team of specialists use aggressive chemotherapy. However, Lyla’s family didn’t believe in any kind of aggressive, intense treatment. As Jehovah's Witnesses, they refuse the transfusion of routinely given blood products from other people, such as red blood cells and platelets, which are often needed after chemotherapy of neuroblastoma.
While most cancer centers would turn away a patient who was refusing a life-saving treatment, or get a court order to mandate transfusion, Dr. Anderson welcomed Lyla and her family and told them he would do his best bring Lyla back to health without having to compromise their religious beliefs.
“The only way to treat Lyla was with personalized therapy,” said Dr. Anderson. “We developed a therapy that was effective and restored her health without needing transfusions.”
While this approach may have taken longer than traditional methods, with each cycle of chemotherapy, Dr. Anderson was able to kill more cancer cells than the amount that were growing back. After 10 cycles, the tumor had shrunk enough to the point where surgeons could successfully operate on her to remove what was left.
Lyla is now a happy and healthy little girl again thanks to Dr. Anderson’s compassionate and open-minded care approach.