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TOUGH TYKE

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11-month-old boy diagnosed with leukemia

By Jeff Bryan

Matthew Snodgrass was like most inquisitive toddlers, as he was learning to walk, exploring newfound boundaries.

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But even for the 11-month-old tyke, the bruises that would randomly appear were becoming disconcerting, especially for his parents, Megan and Matt. So when Matthew fell ill and began running a fever, his mom, Megan, took him to a nearby clinic. The doctor, she said, dismissed the bruising and diagnosed Matthew with an ear infection and sent them home.

So she immediately scheduled an appointment with his regularly pediatrician, who ordered bloodwork be done immediately. By the following day, the doctor had partial results back on Matthew. And that’s when Megan and Matt got the call.

They were told to immediately go to Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Matthew’s platelet count was dangerously low, 13,000, compared to the normal 140,000 to 150,000 it was supposed to be.

“They did a platelet transfusion as soon as we got him admitted,” Megan explained, noting because of the steroids Matthew was given it had masked what she and her husband feared the most: that the illness was worse than either anticipated.

By the following Saturday, which was April 13, doctors delivered the news no parent is prepared for: Matthew had leukemia, B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, also called acute lymphocytic leukemia. According to webmd, ALL accounts for three out of every four cases of childhood leukemia. And for the past three weeks, the couple has been at their son’s bedside as the young toddler has undergone extensive rounds of chemotherapy,

“Our whole world was completely turned upside down, in one sentence,” Megan said. “I didn’t know if I was mentally prepared; we have two other children. I immediately thought, ‘How are we doing to do this?’

“It was devastating to say the least. There were a lot of tears, asking yourself, ‘why?’ They’re healthy. You think you might have to worry about a broken arm or broken leg one day. You cannot prepare yourself for something like this. It’s absolutely devastating.”

Added Matt: “To be honest, I don’t know how to describe it. Overwhelming. He might just be a little sick, a little more than you though. It’s a lot to take. But … you have to take it one day at a time. Just love him more every time you see him.”

Personally for Matt, the father admitted to being scared, worried, angry to happy and sad.

“’Why? I think that’s the biggest question is why, what did I do?’” he explained. “’What could I have done different?’ There’s no family history in either family. They don’t have a hard explanation. One percent (of babies) have the ability for it to happen; it makes it more special.”

So many firsts for Matthew will come in the hospital: his first steps, his first Easter and his first birthday May 10. Three days later, May 13, he’ll have another round of invasive chemotherapy as well as a bone marrow biopsy.

“We’re hoping for remission, but could take two to three days to get results back,” said Megan, who along with Matt, agreed the ear infection was a blessing in disguised for an early diagnosis. “Once the doctors get the results back, they’ll re-evaluate treatment and care.”

Most important, they’ll know if they’ll be able to go home and come for outpatient treatment.

But there is still a lot of maintenance and care to be done. Training neither Megan or Matt, agreed they never thought they’d learn in their lifetime.

“He’s got a line that goes under his skin, he’ll have that probably for three years,” the couple explained. “So we’ve been learning how to give meds through that, flush it and take care of it. We’ll have to do it at home. Never, never in a million years did I think we’d have to learn something like this, but we’re pretty damn good at it.”

His father, Matt, quipped his son “will have a cooler story than me.”

“Because of his age, he’ll be more resilient, he won’t remember any of this by the time they get rid of it,” he added.

And for the two working parents, it means Megan will leave her job at Dunnellon Animal Hospital while Matt will continue working as lineman for Duke Energy.

“I’ve had to leave my job, because I’ll be a full-time caretaker to him,” Megan explained. “With leukemia, he won’t have an immune system like any other kid.”

Within days of launching an online fundraiser, the community support has been overwhelming, Megan and Matt said, from family and friends.

“We could not ask for a better community, everyone has pulled together and donated to us,” they said. “We’ve had friends who have offered to help to us with our girls, Jasmine, 14, and Brooke, 4; taking them to school, bring them Easter baskets when we cannot be there. They’ve gone above and beyond for us. It’s overwhelming, but heartwarming for this little boy.”

Added Matt: “It’s really good to know there are still good people out there.”

Sharing the news with their daughters, Jasmine and Brooke, was equally as hard as the doctors telling them about it. While Brooke is too young to understand, Megan and Matt explained to her that her baby brother is sick and has to stay in the hospital for a while. With Jasmine, there were a lot of questions.

“We’re completely honest with her,” Megan explained. “The hospital has been great; they gave us some books to give to her that helped better explain what’s going on.”

And one aspect, Megan said, is the doctors and the books, have explained, “it’s OK to feel left out, because the baby is getting more attention.”

“It just kind of gives her a place to write her feelings,” Megan said, “and the books explain why mom and dad might be spending more time with him. She’s kind of quiet, not one to express, it’s a little hard.”

But, with hope to have Matthew home shortly after his first birthday, not being in control is challenging.

“That’s really hard,” Matt said. 

To contribute to the fundraiser for Matthew Snodgrass, visit www.facebook.com/donate/626798384410605.