Living Life to the Fullest.
A redhead with fair skin, Mike and Beth Patterson of Omaha didn't notice that their four-year-old daughter, Kim, appeared pale until a friend pointed it out to them. The girl was being treated for flu-like symptoms and a low-grade fever. So they made another trip to their pediatrician, who took a second blood test.
That afternoon, they got a disturbing call from their doctor. They needed to get Kim to Children's Hospital & Medical Center. Right away.
"We were hoping it was some sort of nasty infection," says Beth.
Several tests were performed on Kim that evening, including a bone marrow test.
"Eventually, they came in," Mike recalls, "and told us it was leukemia."
Kim was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), an aggressive cancer of the white blood cells. The Pattersons felt as though they'd been standing on a ledge all day waiting for an answer - and then were suddenly shoved off.
"That was not a good day," Beth says. "We remember it like it was yesterday."
They also remember meeting Anisa Hoie, R.N.
"She pulled us together and picked up the pieces," Mike says. "She told us there was a long road ahead, but we had to be positive."
It was a journey that began that day in July 1995 and lasted more than two years during which Kim underwent intensive chemotherapy in the form of oral medications, intravenous chemo, and spinal taps under the supervision of pediatric oncologist Minnie Abromowitch, M.D., medical director of the Hematology/Oncology Clinic at Children's.
Dr. Abromowitch, who has spent half her life conducting research and treating childhood leukemias and lymphomas, is in good company at Children's, where Drs. Donald Coulter, David Gnarra, Bruce Gordon, Al Grovas, James Harper and Elizabeth Thompson comprise the Hematology/Oncology Clinic.
When Kim finally completed her treatments and tests indicated the chemo had done its job, "we had a big party in the backyard," Mike says.
As part of her follow-up care, Kim's blood was tested at regular intervals that gradually grew farther apart. In March 2000, she had a good checkup. But in June, while attending a family reunion in Des Moines, Kim wasn't acting like herself.
"She's always been something of a tomboy," Beth says. "But she didn't want to swim or play catch. And she said she had pain in her joints."
Recognizing the pain as a symptom of something possibly serious, they returned to Omaha on June 19 - Mike's birthday. They went to the Hematology/Oncology Clinic at Children's, where their worst fears were realized.
Kim had fully relapsed. The leukemia had come back.
Driving the family home from the clinic, Mike was having a hard time accepting the bad news. That's when Kim told him, "Dad, we can get through this. I've been through it once; I can do it again." Tears well in Mike's eyes as he recalls that moment. "That was so brave for a nine-year-old."
A bone marrow transplant was considered, but neither parent was a perfect match. Instead, Dr. Abromowitch began administering chemotherapy in stronger doses than Kim had originally received.
At the time a fourth-grader at St. James/Seton Elementary, Kim missed more than half of her days at school. "When I did get to go, I'd hear in the hall, 'Kim's back!'" she says. "That would make me feel good."
She was given special permission to always wear a hat at school to help disguise the fact she'd lost her hair to the treatments.
"I worried a little about what they'd say if they saw me without it," Kim says. "I remember once we were playing football and the boys bumped me. I fell down and my hat fell off. But they just helped me up, dusted me off and put my hat back on."
The school even held a Hat Day, where other kids paid a dollar to be able to wear a hat. The event raised $1,000 for Camp CoHoLo near Gretna, a summer camp for children with cancer that Kim attended every year since turning six.
In October 2002, Kim completed her treatments. At the five-year anniversary of being cancer-free, her parents held a second party for Kim - and 75 of her "screaming, dancing friends."
Today, Kim is a 2009 graduate of Marian High School. A volunteer for so many organizations that the list fills a printed page, she is planning a career as a pediatric hematology/oncology nurse. "I think that's been God's plan for me all along," she says. "I can't imagine doing anything else."
In the meantime, "Kim lives every day to the fullest," Beth says. "She never takes anything for granted. We are so proud of her for that."