Family Forges Special Partnership with Pediatric Oncology Team

In September 2009, Theresa and James Zervas of Lynbrook were in the throes of getting all five of their children back to school. With a daughter and son off to college, one daughter in middle school, another daughter in grade school and their youngest, Laura, ready for prekindergarten, it was a hectic time to say the least.

But 4-year-old Laura was not feeling like herself a few days before school was to begin. As a precaution, Ms. Zervas brought Laura to her pediatrician to make sure she hadn’t caught a virus. In less than 24 hours, Laura was met in the Emergency Department by Carolyn Fein Levy, MD, an attending pediatric oncologist at the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York, and Jessica Scerbo, MD, a fellow at the center. Together, they determined Laura’s
diagnosis: acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow and the most common type of cancer in children.

“We didn’t have a moment to flip out because we immediately needed to be there for Laura,” said Ms. Zervas. “Thankfully, we felt very comfortable with Dr. Fein Levy and explained to her that we were not only giving her Laura to treat. We were giving her the entire Zervas family.”

Careful Consideration

Laura’s cancer treatment had to be carefully designed because she also has Down syndrome. For reasons still unknown, children with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of leukemia.  Furthermore, patients with Down syndrome have a higher rate of infectious complications and increased therapy-related complications.
“Teamwork, especially in a case like Laura’s, is crucial for the best outcome,” said Dr. Fein Levy. “We modified her chemotherapy and intensified her supportive care to provide the optimal balance between anti-leukemia therapy and side effects. Laura’s family forged a partnership with the physicians, nurses, Child Life specialists and social workers at CCMC, who diligently worked together and openly communicated with one another, and the family. So far, Laura’s treatment has been very successful.”

The ultimate goal in treating children with cancer is to get them into remission and back into their life: going to school, interacting with friends and family and maintaining normalcy. This past September, Laura happily returned to school with her cancer in complete remission. She will receive maintenance therapy for the next two years and continues to brighten the clinic when she visits for treatments.

“Laura has such a shine within her. Throughout this whole ordeal, Laura did not lose her special spirit,” said Ms. Zervas. “It helped that every single day, someone at the hospital brightened Laura’s day, and I really feel these little interactions — however small— kept her going.” 

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