They Decided to Let Their Toddler Die of Cancer. It Saved Him

After a bone marrow transplant didn't work, they brought Andrew home
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2016 11:13 AM CDT
Updated May 15, 2016 5:44 PM CDT
They Decided to Let Their Toddler Die of Cancer. It Saved Him
"It does feel a bit like a miracle," says Andrew's transplant doctor.   (Shutterstock)

In late June 2015, Esther and Dan Levy asked their friends not to tell them there was still hope, but to respect their decision: no second bone-marrow transplant, no palliative chemotherapy for their toddler son. Andrew had been diagnosed the prior December, at 14 months, with a kind of acute megakaryoblastic leukemia so rare fewer than four dozen kids are thought to suffer from it a year in America; an analysis of Andrew's cells showed a protein pattern that rendered his case worse than most. But there was hope in the form of a bone marrow transplant, and 5-year-old brother Wills was a perfect match. Surgery followed in February 2015; but on June 19, the cancer was back. Their child's pain and suffering had been immeasurable, and as Esther puts it to the New York Times Magazine, the odds of suffering were 100% if they repeated the transplant or did more chemo. And so they brought Andrew to their Atherton, Calif., home to die and began their agonizing wait.

Within two weeks, Andrew was so sick Esther had to hold him at all times. They purchased a grave site. They told Wills and younger sibling Lea that Andrew would die. But then, "mirages" appeared, where Andrew could laugh, or eat something, each a bitter pill for Esther, ever-aware of her son's impending death. Except he kept improving, so much so doctors tested him in October. And, somehow, the cancer was gone. The theory was that he wasn't dying in July but fighting off an infection, one that caused Wills' healthy bone marrow to pump out more white blood cells to fight it; they went after cancer cells, too. But two decisions were key: He was given immune-suppressing drugs for a shorter period than typical after his transplant, which, in terms of timing, meant his immune system was strengthening as the cancer returned. And his parents turned down palliative chemo, which would have wiped out the white blood cells. Andrew isn't in the clear yet, but hope is slowly crowding out the fear. Read the incredible story at the Times. (More cancer stories.)

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