Alijah’s Story: Surviving Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

Watching your child grow and move forward through developmental milestones—learning to sit, to crawl, to take the first tottering step—is a joyful process for any parent. How frightening, then, to watch your child suddenly seem to “grow backwards.” That is what Kyle and Jamekka experienced when their two-year-old son Alijah stopped walking.

“He just started crawling again,” recalls Jamekka. “He would go for four or five days crawling with his foot up in the air like it was hurting. Then he’d walk for a few days then go back to crawling. Sometimes his right ankle hurt, sometimes his left, sometimes it was his wrist. We thought something might have happened at daycare…” But that turned out not to be so.

Soon, Alijah started running a high fever at night and Jamekka took her son to the family’s regular pediatrician. After repeated visits, with tests and x-rays coming back negative, the pediatrician referred Alijah to a rheumatologist, suspecting his mysterious pains might be a sign of rheumatoid arthritis. Once again scans and tests showed no problems. Alijah definitely did not have RA.

However, the rheumatologist thought Alijah should be seen by a hematologist. She was concerned that a blood disorder might be causing his symptoms. She referred the family to University of Minnesota Children’s Hospital.

The next day, doctors diagnosed Alijah with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) after performing a bone marrow biopsy and finding leukemia cells in his marrow.

A long journey, a special boy

Coincidentally, Alijah’s cousin was at this hospital at the same time, being treated for a heart problem; so, many of Alijah’s relatives were present when doctors break the news of Alijah’s diagnosis. Alijah was lucky to this extent: Though it was once almost always fatal, ALL is now a very treatable disease. Thanks to research like that sponsored by Children’s Cancer Research Fund, today more than 80 percent of children with ALL are cured.

Alijah started treatment immediately. The medical team inserted a “port” in his chest through which he would receive chemotherapy drugs. A physical therapist coached Alijah’s parents about ways to get Alijah walking again. The family began the long journey, marked by terrors and triumphs that is cancer treatment.

Today, this little boy who once seemed to be growing backwards is now quite advanced. He’s a high-spirited one with a precocious interest in golf. “If there’s a good thing in all of this,” says Jamekka, “it’s watching Alijah grow up. He is a brave kid and we admire him so much. We figure the rest of our life is pretty simple. When we look at what Alijah has done and how he has stood up to this we know that we’ll be able to handle whatever comes.”