A little boy battles leukemia with the help of his older brother
Sharply dressed in slacks and a tie, Jude Cobler came home from his fourth day of kindergarten at All Saints Catholic School, on Aug. 19, 2010, with a 105-degree fever.
His mom, Boots, and dad, Keith, had previously noticed lumpy bruises on Jude’s legs and talked to their doctor, who said not to worry unless the bruises popped up above his knees.
Keith called his insurance company’s nurse line. They instructed him to call 911. After the paramedics arrived and examined Jude, they told Boots and Keith to take their 6-year-old to Children’s Medical Center at Legacy in Plano. Soon after their arrival, they found out Jude had leukemia. An ambulance transported him to Children’s Medical Center of Dallas where he spent three days in intensive care and another three on the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders floor.
“After ICU, Jude went through a lot of blood draws and procedures,” his mom says. “They started chemo right away.”
With an 85 percent survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, his parents felt optimistic, but were concerned about the lack of cancer medications on the market for children. After a month of chemotherapy, Jude’s leukemia decreased by 75 percent and doctors said he was in partial remission, but wasn’t in the consolidation phase where there is no measurable leukemia in the blood. Boots and Keith continued to spend their nights with Jude in the hospital while their parents took care of his 12-year-old brother, Joshua, at home.
During Jude’s second month of treatment, something drastic happened — his cancer increased tenfold.
“That’s when we started talking about a bone marrow transplant,” Boots says.
Keith worried about his son because Jude is half white, half Filipino. His donor would need to have a similar genetic makeup. So the day the Coblers found out Jude needed a marrow transplant, they picked up Joshua from All Saints to have his blood drawn — and hoped the 25 percent chance he had of being a match would pan out.
“There was definitely a lot of fear of not being a match,” Joshua says. “There was still a lot of grief about Jude being diagnosed and anger about why this was happening.”
Two days later, to everyone’s relief, Joshua turned out to be a positive match for his younger brother.
“Most people you talk to on the street have no idea what a bone marrow transplant is like,” Keith says. “It can be as simple as giving blood, or with younger kids, they put them to sleep and extract the marrow from a larger bone.”
Before Jude could undergo the transplant, which would strip his whole body of his type A blood and replace it with Joshua’s type O blood, he had to undergo a process where all of his live bone marrow was killed off to prepare for the new marrow. It took 10 days of aggressive chemotherapy and five days of total body radiation twice daily to prepare him for the transplant.
“It was very difficult because we had to trust people to take our son away and we couldn’t see him for hours,” Boots says.
That December the two brothers underwent the bone marrow transfer, a life-saving technique that Jude will never forget.
“[Joshua] gave me a second chance at life,” says Jude, now 8. “He’s one of the best family members I can have in my whole life.”
Once Jude received the transplant, Keith says, it was a waiting game for the new bone marrow to take over and his immune system to rejuvenate, a process that took about another month. Around that time, Jude contracted veno-occlusive disease, causing blood to pool in his abdomen, which swelled and became “taut as a drum,” Keith says.
Boots says during those agonizing days, Jude was in his hospital bed screaming the entire night and there wasn’t a thing anyone could do. They couldn’t give the child any more morphine.
Finally the disease corrected itself. Doctors were able to remove drains pumped into his body to remove excess fluid from his body cavity. In early February, Jude was finally stable enough to go home, though his plight was far from over. Jude had to take 20 pills a day while he and family members wore medical masks and obsessively cleaned the house because of his still-susceptible immune system. When Jude started to feel better, he was able to attend school on and off beginning in the fall. And finally, he was able to play outside.
“I always thought there was going to be an end to this,” the now-healthy Jude says. “Even through tough times I thought, ‘I’m going to get through it.’ ”
Joshua, now a Jesuit College Prepatory School of Dallas student, was nominated for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Spirit of Tom Landry Award for his articles, advocacy and the newspaper he launched while Jude was hospitalized called The Sibling Times. He’ll receive the award at the society’s Saint Valentine’s Day luncheon Feb. 12 at the Meyerson Symphony Center.
As for Joshua’s younger brother and transplant recipient, after two years of medicine, painfully sleepless nights, a family hidden behind medical masks and $2 million of medical bills, Jude is leukemia free. The experience gave him an idea about what he wants to be when he grows up.
“I want to be a pediatric oncologist so I can save lives,” Jude proudly says.
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