FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) - On this day, four-year-old Charlie Keith is busy doing what little boys do: picking at his breakfast and pretending to be a super hero. His favorite, for now, is Marshall BraveStarr—an American space Western cartoon character with “eyes of the hawk, ears of the wolf, strength of the bear, and speed of the puma.”
His eyes sparkle with suppressed mischief as he explains how with “eyes of a hawk,” he can see me in the adjoining room of his specialized treatment suite at Cook Children’s Fort Worth. You see, Charlie will need the ‘strength of a bear’. He’s already battling cancer: a stage four neuroblastoma. His mother, Jordan Keith, says the diagnosis was devastating.
“I can’t describe it now, because I was in such a zombie like mode,” says Keith, “so emotional, it’s draining, it’s scary.”
That was more than a year ago… a journey that started when her then, happy, healthy three-year-old started limping. What his parents first shrugged off as “growing pains,” was quickly confirmed as cancer.
Since then Charlie has undergone a number of treatments to combat the cancer attacking his peripheral nervous system. The latest has the Oklahoma City family at Cook Children’s for groundbreaking care that previously required a cross country flight. But, now, that care is available in North Texas.
It’s called “MIBG”, short for metaiodobenzylguanadeen. Most, understandably, stick to “MIBG”. But, parents hope they’ll one day be able to call the medical mouthful a miracle.
Here’s how it works: MIBG is a compound linked to a radioactive molecule. “This compound is then taken up into the cancer cells, the cancer cells then pull that molecule and the radioactive iodine into the cell and kind of kill it from the inside out, “ says Dr. Meaghan Granger, with Cook Children’s.
“As Charlie’s oncologist described it, it was very scary,” says his mom. “But also, it was going to be good for him, we believe it’s going to be good for him.”
And the best part, says Keith, is that the treatment does not make him sick, like so many others that have left Charlie in his bed, looking “lifeless.” She adds, “to see him happy, and relatively healthy, is great.”
Still, following the treatment, extreme precautions must be taken because the patient remains radioactive—his or her entire body. Visits are limited, so parents keep a watchful eye through a window in an adjoining suite.
The MIBG suite at Cook Children’s was a costly—roughly $900,000 to build—and complicate effort to undertake because of the radiation involved. The walls are lead lined and the mammoth door weighs some 3000 pounds—all done to make sure no one is harmed in the effort to heal young cancer patients.
Prior to the MIBG suite built at Cook Children’s, patients had to travel as far away as San Francisco for the cutting edge treatment.
“Some patients just weren’t able to pull it off at all,” says Dr. Granger. “They just weren’t able to go for that therapy.”
But, now that MIBG is available in North Texas, doctors and parents hope that it will deliver a miracle.
“We hope it’s a miracle for them, “ says Dr. Granger. “We’ve definitely seen miracles… we’re always hoping for that with each patient.”
And for now, ‘hope’ has got to be enough.
“When you’re kicked down so many times with bad news, it’s hard to stay hopeful,” says Keith. “We’re very hopeful MIBG will work. We’re excited, and that’s something you don’t usually get during this journey is excited.”
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