HOUSTON -- Nearly four dozen children, survivors of cancer, have volunteered to relive some of their negative hospital memories all for the sake of helping the next child who gets the same life-changing diagnosis.
Nick Sauter, 13, is a leukemia survivor. He was 4-years-old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of blood cancer in children. His treatment included 6 months of intense chemotherapy and an additional 2 years of “maintenance” treatments before he was considered cancer-free.
His dad Greg Sauter remembers how traumatic some of those hospital stays were for his young son.
"I was literally pinning my chest against his telling him to look me in the eye, grit your teeth and stuff while out of the corner of my eye I'm watching them and they're trying to find a vein,” he said of the sometimes painful procedures and the difficulty of explaining their importance to a 4 year old boy.
When we first interviewed Nick in 2010 he recalled that long days in the hospital led to introspective moments that most kids his age never experience.
"I was thinking will I live or die, figuring out will God be with me if I live or die or not,” he said.
Nick is still cancer-free. His family even mounted a pay-it-forward effort based in Nick’s experience in the hospital. Second to the medical treatments he said the most difficult part of being in the hospital was boredom. So his family, in a campaign they called “Nicky’s Journey”, raised thousands of dollars to buy hundreds of portable DVD players and movies for patients at Texas Children’s Hospital. The DVD players are still being used by patients there today.
But this month the hospital called again asking if the healthy young boy would be willing to pay-it-forward again: to be a guinea pig of sorts for a medical study.
"Like the memories of different things coming back sort of to haunt me,” he said of the initial reaction to the phone call. Researchers at Texas Children’s were looking for 40 young cancer survivors to undergo a battery of tests to see why survivors have other health problems later in life.
“At first I was nervous to go for it at first,” Nick said. But this time he just asked his mom one question.
"I asked her if this is going to help other children and she said yes. After that I just said let's do it."
So last Saturday Nick marched down a hospital hallway, offered his body up for a bone density scan, offered as much blood as the doctors needed and chugged down a not-so-delicious drink for a series of glucose tests.
Leukemia survivors sometimes have insulin problems, diabetes, and metabolism issues like obesity. Nick and 39 other leukemia survivors volunteered to help doctors find out why.
“As with any of us metabolic syndrome is a big risk to our health because of the cholesterol issues, the fat issues, the sugar issues, the organ system dysfunction,” said Dr. Zoann Dreyer at Texas Children’s.
“These kids, these cancer survivors, are just an exceptional group of patients,” she said of Nick and the other volunteers. “For the most part the families and those children will do anything they can to help those behind them.”
But for a cancer survivor was all this "paying-it-forward" business worth reliving the nightmares of his early childhood? That answer for Nick was easy.
"If the test works out then yes,” he said. "I'm hoping that it can result in a lot of help with kids in later generations."
Dreyer says most of the screenings have already been conducted. She expects it will take at least 6 months to thoroughly analyze the data before conclusions can be reached. She expects the study will likely result in doctors being much more attentive to what a patient’s glucose levels are in the first months of treatment and to more meticulous monitoring of the impact chemo and steroid treatments have on the young soon-to-be cancer survivors.
If you would like to do something to Pay It Forward to someone in need or if you have a need with which you could use some help, please click here for more information.