Cancer Center

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Pediatric Neuroblastoma: Cole's Story

A rare cancer diagnosis of neuroblastoma followed by a stem cell transplant didn't stop this three-year-old.

There are some dates you just never forget.

cole fitzgerald poses at home
On August 7, 2007, after undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy, 3-year-old Cole Fitzgerald had a pediatric stem cell transplant at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. His parents, Keren and Bill, had brought him to CHOP on the advice of a physician at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, who knew that CHOP was one of the world’s premier treatment and research centers for neuroblastoma, the rare childhood cancer Cole had been diagnosed with seven months earlier.

The decision to come to CHOP was an easy one for the Fitzgeralds because they knew the Cancer Center team had vast experience treating patients like Cole, who had an advanced, aggressive form of the disease. “We didn’t even consider going anywhere else,” Keren says.

Oncologist Stephan A. Grupp, MD, PhD, a world-renowned expert on pediatric stem cell transplantation, coordinated Cole’s care at Children’s Hospital, working closely with Cole’s referring physician. “Everything went seamlessly,” says Keren. “It was wonderful.”

The Fitzgeralds saw the same commitment to partnership during Cole’s 28-day stay at CHOP. When Cole’s kidneys began to fail after his transplant, he was rushed to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where oncologist Richard Aplenc, MD, MSCE, worked closely with PICU and Endocrinology physicians to stabilize him. Grupp also came by to check on Cole, Keren remembers, even though he wasn’t on rounds that week.

“Dr. Grupp is so awesome,” she says. “He’s very warm and very reassuring.”

cole fitzgerald doted on by his sisters
Having a consistent team of care providers who all worked closely together made a difficult time much easier for Cole’s parents. “When you have a child in the PICU, you’re not sleeping well, you’re not functioning on all cylinders, the stress level is at an all-time high, and you’re worried about your child,” Keren says. “It was a stressful time, and I remember Dr. Aplenc coming to our rescue.”

Staff from the Child Life, Education and Creative Arts Therapy Department also worked with Cole regularly during his stay. “The music therapy that Cole received was amazing. There was a woman who came in who played guitar and brought musical instruments in. There was another woman who brought in art supplies,” says Keren. “It really enriched his time there. They would come into the room and just light him up for an hour.”

Eighteen days after his transplant, Cole went home – much to the delight of his parents, his twin sister, Maeve, and his older sister, Maggie. He had radiation treatments at his local hospital later that year, followed by six months of Accutane therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells, and is now considered a cancer survivor.

He’s also a first-grader, a Cub Scout, a baseball player and an excellent dancer. For all of that – and so much more – his family is incredibly grateful.

“CHOP was instrumental in saving my son’s life,” Keren says. “Without CHOP, he wouldn’t have made it.”

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