While Lauren LaSource brushes her son Ryan’s blond hair from his eyes as the youngster slowly rouses from a nap she forces the best smile she can and vows to stay strong.
She and her husband, Austin, bring Ryan from their Gluckdstadt home to Batson Children’s Hospital at University of Mississippi Medical Center once a week to treat his Acute Monocytic Leukemia, or AML, which returned in September. Ryan, 3, is battling AML for the third time.
“Ryan was diagnosed at 5½ months,” Lauren said. “At 3 months we started seeing thumbprint-sized purple spots on him that didn’t appear to be bruises. A dermatologist biopsied two of them, and they came back (positive for) leukemia in his skin. There’s no history of leukemia in either of our families.”
“We often see AML in infants,” said Dr. Gail Megason, director of the Children’s Cancer Center at UMMC and Ryan’s physician. “He responded well to initial therapy but then relapsed. We gave him chemotherapy and then wiped out his marrow and immune system and replaced it with (bone) marrow from another patient.
“At his one-year work-up, we checked his cells to make sure they all belonged to the donor. Unfortunately, they did not. We asked the donor for more cells, which he graciously gave. We have infused these twice now as a ‘boost’ to the donor’s (contribution to Ryan's) system, again trying to get a reaction.
“While all we really want is to kill Ryan’s leukemia cells,” Megason said, “the only way we can know that might be happening is if Ryan begins to have skin rash or diarrhea. This would be evidence the donor cells were attacking Ryan as foreign.
“We check engraftment weekly, (or the) percent of cells belonging to donor vs. Ryan —we want it to stay 100 percent donor. If it doesn’t, he will need a second (bone marrow) transplant with a different donor who may be more reactive against Ryan.”
Ryan underwent his marrow transplant in September 2014, which Lauren assumed would be the most difficult aspect of fighting the disease that the family would go through.
“He was given extremely strong chemo, and we made it through,” Lauren said. “He was in isolation for 100 days. He couldn’t be around any kids, and it was basically just us and our parents (watching him).
“In May (of this year) things kind of got back to normal. He started going with me to Mother’s Morning Out at Broadmoor Baptist Church, which was exciting for him — he loves kids. We were just starting to do normal kid stuff. It felt like we’d just started life again when he relapsed.”
Austin, a marketing project manager for Horne LLP, is a triathlete. He and friends organized the first annual Indian Cycle RyanMan Triathlon at the Ross Barnett Reservoir this year to raise money for Batson. The event, which took place Oct. 4, was just days away when Austin and Lauren learned that Ryan had relapsed.
“It was difficult,” Austin said. “I was doing a lot of (triathlon-related) things then, and we didn’t know what the next steps (in treating Ryan) were going to be. But it also made me excited about doing the event because I knew we were raising money for the hospital and what benefit it was going to provide.”
Ryan spent a month in the hospital and is back home, though not yet able to attend church or Mother’s Morning Out. Because of his weak immune system, his parents are limiting his activities to events they can completely control.
“He can’t be around anyone who’s actively sick, and he can’t be around kids or adults who’ve had the FluMist vaccine because of the active flu in it,” Austin said. “We took him to Livingston to see Santa. It was outdoors, and we were able to keep him from other kids who had runny noses.”
Megason describes what the LaSources have been through as an emotional roller coaster. Each good day for Ryan is obviously a positive step. A huge blessing in their eyes was the resounding success of the RyanMan Triathlon two months ago. Thanks to many entrants, volunteers and sponsors, the event raised over $22,000 for Batson.
“We had four big sponsors that really went out on a limb for us,” Austin said. “Our presenting sponsor was Indian Cycle of Ridgeland. Southern Farm Bureau sponsored the bike course, iTron of Jackson was the swim course sponsor and Stinky Feet of Flowood sponsored the run course.
“They all stepped up and gave a tremendous amount of money, and this is what allowed us to have a successful event and give what we did to Batson. Being a first-year event, we had to approach people and say, ‘This is what we hope to do,’ instead of being able to show a track record. We were asking a lot, and because of those sponsors we were able to make an impact.”
“Austin expressed an interest in improving the patient experience for our cancer patients, and the funds from this race will benefit the Children’s Cancer Center,” said Andrew Russell, Children’s Miracle Network coordinator at UMMC. “Cancer patients tend to have to stay in the hospital much longer than other patients. This makes it very important on our part to make their stay comfortable.
“A donation of this size will open up many opportunities to do that. We are currently working with our child life staff to come up with things that will make staying at the hospital as comfortable as possible. (Austin) and his board will have a big say-so in this process.”
“Once Ryan began treatment, we realized how key it was to have the hospital right here in Jackson where we live,” Austin said. “Batson is a great place, but it doesn’t exist without donors — your donation might go toward research, but it might go toward getting toys for kids who have to be here at Christmas.”
Austin is already spreading the word about the second Indian Cycle RyanMan Triathlon, which is set for Oct. 2, 2016 with all proceeds again going to Batson.
“Ryan is blessed to have Austin and Lauren as parents,” said Sarah Elizabeth Elkin, pediatric bone marrow transplant coordinator at UMMC. “They have remained so strong throughout all of this and have handled all they have faced with such grace. Ryan is definitely a fighter, and his smile can brighten any room. When we first met him, he was just a little baby. Now he is running all over the clinic with his parents trying to keep up with him.”
“Being at the race (in October), I had these terrible thoughts,” Lauren said. “‘Is my kid going to be at the race next year?’ But we have a very strong faith. We take it day by day and go straight back to the Lord. If Ryan is happy and healthy that day, then we’re good.”
Find and like RyanMan Triathlon on Facebook for updates, and visit www.gofundme.com/ryanlasource to make a financial contribution to the RyanMan Foundation. Donations go directly to Batson.
By Joe Lee
Originally published in The Clarion-Ledger