In 2013, Liam Steen was 2 years old when he complained about one of his feet hurting. He was in pain and refused to walk, so his parents took him to Dell Children's, part of Ascension Seton in Austin, Texas, to find out what was wrong.
A few X-rays revealed that Liam had a bacterial infection in his ankle that required emergency surgery. After the surgery, doctors told the Steen family that they found some abnormalities and that Liam had leukemia. The family didn’t know then that Liam would eventually return to Dell Children’s to receive care for the same diagnosis years later. "We went for a 20-minute appointment to check out his ankle and ended up in the hospital for a month," said Liam's dad, William.
The Steen family was shocked by the diagnosis despite knowing Liam wasn't acting like himself for months. "We suspected something big was wrong with him," William said.
The diagnosis impacted the entire family, including Liam's sister, Jaden, who was about 7 years old when her little brother got sick. At Dell Children's, child life specialists gave Jaden activities, like art and music therapy, while her parents focused on Liam. "That helped Jaden work through her emotions during that time,” William said. Child life specialists did the same sorts of helpful activities with Liam, he added.
Certified child life specialists at Dell Children's Medical Center aim to create a positive learning experience for children and their families with activities that help reduce the stress and other challenges of experiencing illness, injury and hospitalization.
After the first month of Liam getting treated for his bacterial infection and receiving chemotherapy for his leukemia, the family received a nine-month treatment plan for Liam. During that time, he experienced hair loss and sickness, but found support from nurses at Dell Children’s.
"It takes a special kind of person to do some of the things that they do because you're giving kids really strong medicines," William said. "It takes more than just being able to diagnose a problem. It takes having the compassion to do the job the right way."
After nine months of treatment, Liam transitioned to a maintenance period where he would follow up with his doctor, take medicines and return to the hospital quarterly for blood work and chemotherapy via an IV. After five years, Liam entered survivorship and was seen annually by his oncologist.
Everything was fine until Liam started having familiar symptoms nine years after being hospitalized. "He was having these low-grade fevers. He wasn't acting himself," William said.
The family decided to take Liam to the emergency room, where an oncologist revealed that Liam had relapsed. "He relapsed after about seven or eight years, which is extremely rare. So there's no playbook at all for this. This is like a unicorn," William said. Michael M. Mitchell, MD, pediatric hematologist and oncologist at Dell Children's Medical Center, cared for Liam during this second time with leukemia. "He put me at ease right away. Dr. Mitchell said he would get a lot of input from others, and that's what he did. He wasn't going to be trying to treat him in a vacuum," William said.
Dr. Mitchell called his colleagues nationwide to help assess Liam's unique relapse at Dell Children's Blood and Cancer Center. Liam's experienced pediatric cancer care team is part of a national team of experienced cancer doctors, sharing best practices and the latest in cancer care knowledge and research. Once Dr. Mitchell completed his research, he recommended Liam have a five-month treatment plan with different IV-administered medications, including immunotherapy.
According to William, many of Liam's treatments were not available during his first time having leukemia. Liam did not experience hair loss with these new treatments, but he had to carry a backpack filled with medicine 24/7 for a month.
Today, Liam is in his maintenance stage, which is an 18-month period where he takes daily oral medication, receives quarterly chemotherapy — and is looking forward to being in remission.
"The value that the physicians and nurses and everybody at Dell Children's Medical Center bring to the table is their ability to troubleshoot when there are problems and to correctly diagnose when things are going wrong and you need to get back on track," William said.
Personalized care for cancers and blood disorders
At Dell Children's Blood and Cancer Center, pediatric oncologists and hematologists at Dell Children's have the expertise to diagnose and treat even the most complex cancers and blood disorders. Your child's doctor uses advanced testing and imaging to diagnose your child's condition. Get the confidence and peace of mind that your child's doctor and care plan are right for your family. Talk with one of our doctors for a second opinion by calling 512-628-1900 for an appointment.