Today Katie Mitchell is in a good place. Eight years old, she is in the third grade and if you didn’t know what she has been through, you would never guess.
In 2013, after exhibiting troubling signs of illness and then fainting, she was taken to a hospital closest to her home. The emergency room doctor entered with her blood work results and a troubled look on his face. He said, “I am so glad you guys came in here. We think your daughter has leukemia. We need to transfer her to the Studer Family Children’s Hospital.”
There Katie was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where an oncologist confirmed the diagnosis. The family was shocked to learn she would require two and a half years of treatment.
Following a month of inpatient chemotherapy, Katie went into remission and was able to return home. But six months later, she was back at Sacred Heart when her liver shut down due to one of the chemo therapies.
Jamie describes the experience her family underwent during her Katie’s battle as “eye opening now that we have gone through it and seen what childhood cancer really is. I thought you got some chemo, lost your hair and you were good to go.” She feels that most people lack awareness, mostly because it is a subject that no one wants to talk about.
The years of treatment were also eye opening in the depth of their impact on the entire family. There was sadness, fear, and lots of tears. The effect on Katie’s little body was scary and severe. She lost half her weight, her ability to walk and her voice. “There were times when she literally looked like a skeleton.”
Jamie felt she had done something to cause her daughter’s illness, that she had somehow been irresponsible. But after talking with other parents, she learned that her feelings of guilt were a common reaction.
Katie’s brother Ryan was emotionally affected as well. When he was in first grade, his class had a project about the growth of flowers. Each student was asked, “What makes you bloom and what makes you wilt?” Ryan answered, “I wilt when Katie is in the hospital. I bloom when Katie gets better.” Other kids wrote, “I bloom when I get a play station. I wilt when I have to pick up my room.”
Throughout Katie’s inpatient stay, the family continued to be grateful that treatment was available locally, and amazed at the depth of compassionate care given their daughter. “I credit Sacred Heart with saving Katie’s life,” Jamie is quick to declare.
The doctors would explain the treatment and prepare the family for side effects. The nurses, who went above and beyond to spend time with Katie, would even play “tea party” with their tiny patient. “They were there late at night and really took care of us. They became family,” Jamie says. “Nurse Jessica was Katie’s favorite. She was just so loving.” She would share her extra pink stethoscope with her little patient, and let her pretend to be a nurse.
Today, Katie is cancer free. But she still has nightmares and there are times when she suddenly remembers what she went through and is afraid it will recur. As for Jamie, she no longer trusts her “mommy meter” and tends to over-react at the slightest sign of illness in her daughter.
But it has been a battle bravely fought, and Katie is celebrating life. She loves school, singing and dancing, reading and playing outside. Jamie says, “Because of being isolated for a couple of years, she really enjoys social engagements, interacting and meeting people. Going to Walmart is still a big deal for her because she couldn’t go for so long.”
Walmart would be gratified to learn that a part of their annual fundraising campaign to benefit the Studer Family Children’s Hospital has found its way to the bedside of a child like Katie.