It should have been a happy occasion.
School had ended last June. Nine-year-old Jessenia Muro was going to meet her new cousin, who was just born. But as Jessenia was getting into her aunt’s car, she turned pale and began gasping for air. Something was very wrong.
Patricia Rodriguez, Jessenia’s mom, called 911 and an ambulance took Jessenia to the emergency room at Adventist Health Lodi Memorial Hospital. They ran tests and determined that Jessenia needed to be transferred to UC Davis Children’s Hospital for more specialized pediatric care.
UC Davis physicians ordered blood work and tests and then Rodriguez received the news that no mother wants to hear: Jessenia had acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL).
“It was hard. Jessenia thought it was her fault. She thought she did something to cause this,” Rodriguez said. “Her primary nurse explained to her that it was not her fault. It was something that happened to her. There was nothing she did wrong.”
ALL is the most common form of leukemia found in children, comprising 30 percent of all pediatric cancers. It is most common in children ages 2 to 5, but can happen to people of all ages. People with ALL can have too many immature white blood cells in their bone marrow, making it more difficult for the body to fight infections.
Jessenia started chemotherapy treatment every two to three weeks. Hair loss followed.
“She liked to do her hair, curl her hair. It was very difficult for her, but I told her it would be okay,” Rodriguez said.
The UC Davis Child Life and Creative Arts Therapy team helped Jessenia navigate her patient journey. By using dolls, they helped explain medical procedures, from routine lab work to port placement and access, which is how she receives chemotherapy.
Jessenia also participated in special child life-hosted events at the hospital, art and music therapy groups and worked with Jenna Gonsalves, the on-staff school teacher in the hospital.
“She’s one of the most resilient and personable patients I have ever met,” said UC Davis art therapist Katie Lorain. “It is such an honor to get to work with her during her hospitalizations.”
While getting chemotherapy, Jessenia also received comfort by spending time with Huggie, a Labrador retriever provided by Canine Companions for Independence. Huggie is a facility dog and a team member of the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, who supports pediatric patients during treatment at the Pediatric Infusion Center in the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.
More than a year later, Jessenia has completed chemotherapy treatment.
“We want to thank all of the doctors that have been taking care of her,” Rodriguez said.
Jessenia is now on maintenance, a phase in which she continues to come to the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center for blood work, tests and continued monitoring. She will continue this through 2022.
“She knows that she has to have patience, but that we will close this chapter. Then she can start the next chapter,” Rodriguez said. “She is looking forward to it.”
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