Science Is Helping Kids With Cancer Preserve Their Future Fertility
When Erica Avello’s son Frankie Knowles woke up screaming in the middle of the night, the first thing she did was take his temperature. “I thought the thermometer was broken,” Avello says. “His forehead was freezing, and his temperature was 94 degrees.”
After complaining that his head hurt, Frankie, then six, vomited and “became nonresponsive and just kind of floppy,” Avello says. She and her husband rushed Frankie to the hospital closest to their Downingtown, Pennsylvania, home. “They did a CT scan and said his brain was bleeding.” Frankie was transferred by helicopter to Delaware’s Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, where he underwent more than a week of testing and scans.
“His temperature was so low,” Avello, 40, says, “because the tumor was affecting the area of the brain responsible for temperature regulation.” Frankie was diagnosed with Pilomyxoid astrocytoma — a rare form of cancerous brain tumor that only develops in pediatric patients. It had already metastasized to four different sites in his spine.
For his parents, those days were a horrifying whirlwind of meetings with a whole team of doctors to develop an aggressive treatment plan for Frankie. Before they jumped into a chemotherapy regimen, though, they met with Danielle Morley, Nemours’ fertility preservation coordinator.
“She came to see us and said, ‘You might want to consider that someday Frankie is going to be a grown-up, and he might want to have kids,’” Avello recalls. One of the potential long-term effects of the treatment Frankie was set to undergo is a loss of fertility, and Morley was there to talk options.
“It’s amazing that survival rates have increased so greatly; now we need to be looking at ways to ultimately increase their quality of life.”