Whenever a cancer patient like Max gets a fever, it’s an emergency. CHOP’s new hospital in King of Prussia will mean a closer ER for these frightening moments.
For the first two years of his life, Max seemed to be constantly sick, including recurring ear infections and a hernia problem requiring surgery. But when his lymph nodes became swollen, he developed unexplained fevers, and he started complaining of knee pain at night, his mother, Heather, a physician assistant in an Emergency Department, began to have a frightening thought: Her son had leukemia. “But then I’d say to myself, ‘That’s crazy,’” she says. The nighttime complaints could be just another ploy by Max to avoid bedtime.
When the fevers became more persistent and Max started getting a lot of bruises, Heather’s worries intensified. As a medical professional, but one who doesn’t treat children, “I knew too much but not enough,” she explains. Then petechiae appeared on Max’s chest — tiny purple or red spots that often signal the existence of a blood cancer. “I was convinced,” says Heather.
Her pediatrician, however, was not, and he didn’t think obtaining bloodwork was necessary. The next day, Max appeared to be getting worse, so Heather was able to obtain the lab work through her own family doctor. Heather’s worst fears were confirmed: 2-year-old Max had leukemia.
Needing emergency care nearly once a month
Heather and her husband, Matt, drove Max from their home in Blue Bell, Pa., to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia’s (CHOP) — a trip that, when traffic is bad, can take up to an hour and a half. Max was admitted and remained inpatient for a month. When CHOP’s new hospital opens in King of Prussia, it will mean that CHOP’s unparalleled inpatient care will be just a short drive away for families in Montgomery County and the surrounding areas.
Currently, CHOP has an Outpatient Oncology Clinic at the existing Specialty Care & Surgery Center in King of Prussia, and Max received his three-plus years of chemotherapy there under the care of Julie Stern, MD. But whenever a cancer patient like Max gets a fever over 101.5 degrees, it can be life-threatening, requiring a visit to an Emergency Department. “It seemed to happen once a month,” says Heather of Max’s fevers, “and always after hours,” meaning they needed to make the long trek to Philadelphia to be seen at CHOP’s ER.
Max’s cancer treatments are now five years in the past, and today Heather describes her 10-year-old son as “the sweetest, most empathetic kid” who loves soccer, the beach and Minecraft. For families with children diagnosed with cancer, the addition of an inpatient hospital and ER at CHOP’s King of Prussia campus will be a game-changer — and not just for patients but for siblings, too. “You’ll have more time to spend with your other kids instead of sitting in the car,” says Heather, who also has a 13-year-old daughter named Aubrey. “And it will be easier for getting to your job and maintaining as much normalcy as possible for your family. This will help so many people.”