When your child is sick, it changes everything and often makes you wish for things you never would have wished for before. Most parents of children with cancer have experienced this, and Kayla Kelley is no exception. In dealing with the illnesses of her son she has hoped for some unusual things.
Cooper was born premature. In fact, he was so premature that at a birth-weight of 1 lb, 12 oz, he was considered a micro-premie. Because of that, he spent over 6 months in the neo-natal ICU and had several complications before he finally came home. His health issues continued to plague him and at 17 months old, he was still not sitting up and would not straighten his back. Thinking there was an issue with his spinal cord, Kayla took her son to the doctor to find out.
What doctors soon discovered shocked everyone.
“There was a mass on Cooper’s liver,” Kayla recalled. “After the did some bloodwork, they told us it was hepatoblastoma. On Christmas Eve he started experiencing severe abdominal pain, so we took him to the emergency room. He was admitted on Christmas day.”
Rather than the typical celebration, The Kelleys spent the holiday watching Cooper get his port placed so he could begin chemotherapy. Because of its size and location inside of the portal vein, the tumor was inoperable. He needed a liver transplant, but they found out he wouldn’t be eligible until the chemo could reduce the size of the tumor.
After a few months and four rounds of chemo, the tumor had finally shrunk enough to allow Cooper to be placed on the nationwide transplant list. Kayla and her family began praying for a liver, which led to some unique questions.
“When your child needs a transplant, it is hard to know what to pray for,” Kayla explained. “On the one hand, you know your child needs one to live. But on the other end of that prayer is another mother who would be having the worst day of her life.”
They got the call that there was a match three weeks and three days after being placed on the list. Cooper was in the operating room for eleven hours while they removed the tumor and his damaged liver and replaced it with the healthy one. Any parent whose child is wheeled away for surgery experiences anxiety. But the illnesses of the first six months of Cooper’s life had prepared the Kelleys.
Cooper’s recovery took twelve days and after two more rounds of chemo to kill anything that might have been left behind, he was declared cancer-free in August. Cooper’s liver transplant saved his life, but it also had a surprising side-effect.
“Cooper had been on oxygen every day of his life because of lung disease caused by his premature birth,” Kayla said. “But after the liver transplant, he was able to come off oxygen. The tumor they took out had been pushing against his lung. We tell him that the donor gave him the superpower to breath for the first time.”
Cooper is doing great now. He is crawling, laughing, and catching up on the things he missed while fighting battle after battle. He likes to play with blocks, watch Little Einsteins, and play with his sister.
“Cooper is a picture of hope to other parents fighting cancer,” Kayla said. “He’s here, he is thriving, and he is doing better than he was before cancer. I want every mom in my shoes to know there is help and hope even through the bad times. There are resources like CURE to support you. You are not alone.”