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Hernando boy's leukemia fight goes global

BROOKSVILLE — The world has come to the aid of 8-year-old cancer patient Cole VanHoy.

On Wednesday, the son of Randy and Dara VanHoy received a bone marrow transplant from an international donor who turned up a match. The life-saving material was delivered overnight to All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg, where the second-grader at Brooksville Elementary School is a patient.

The procedure is not invasive as the marrow is delivered into the bloodstream via an intravenous drip. But the lead-in to this latest step toward a cure has been a painful and difficult route for Cole and his family.

The youngster, initially hospitalized at St. Joseph's in Tampa last November, has endured chemotherapy and radiation, the latest administration three times a day, said Dara VanHoy.

The treatments create nausea, plus hurtful perspiration and lack of appetite. The 4-foot-1 Cole dropped from 88 pounds to 55 at one point. He's gained back 10 pounds.

He is in remission, a state necessary to be eligible for a marrow transplant, but remission doesn't mean he feels well. Residual effects of ongoing treatment include aches, anguish, gastrointestinal distress and a cough. A viral infection intruded recently.

Cole's ordeal began last autumn when he complained of pain in his back and right arm. A local physician pegged it as related to asthma.

Medication didn't help. His parents took him to a chiropractor, who performed an adjustment. On a subsequent visit, the chiropractor, alarmed at Cole's deterioration, recommended more medical testing.

When arrangements were made at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, Cole was so debilitated he could not get himself onto the examining table, said Dara VanHoy. He was admitted overnight.

The next day, Nov. 14, doctors told the parents their son was suffering from lymphoblastic leukemia plus a rare disease known as Philadelphia cancer, the latter, rare overall and almost unheard of in children. Both were pinpointed through blood and spinal fluid draws.

The Philadelphia cancer grew a tumor in Cole's back that eventually crushed four spinal vertebrae, said Dara VanHoy. He wore a back brace for eight weeks while doctors searched around the country — and still are — for an appropriate treatment.

Prognosis good

The marrow transplant targets the leukemia. Prognosis in children is for "great expectations," said his mother. Medical information on the Internet reports likewise.

For a marrow match, physicians tapped into the National Marrow Donor Program, said All Children's spokeswoman Anne Miller. Cole's sister, Randelle VanHoy, 10, had proved not compatible, as did the children's parents.

At a blood drive conducted in Cole's name through LifeSouth last December at Brooksville Elementary School, 27 people agreed to the bone marrow test. None came up positive. Nonetheless, "It was a very great day for bone marrow," said LifeSouth's donor program coordinator Joanne Murphy.

The name of the ultimate matched donor, who is from Europe, cannot be revealed, Dara VanHoy said. In a year, if the donor agrees, the families may make contact.

Cole's illnesses have impacted his family. Randy VanHoy had to give up his fledgling truck transport business and return to independent over-the-road driving when his son became hospitalized because wife Dara could not provide office time for the small company.

At home, in addition to sister Randelle VanHoy is Ashleigh Dougherty, 16, a daughter by Dara's previous marriage, and 16-month-old Cloie, a cousin the VanHoys took into their home in February and are adopting because her teen mother was unable to care for her.

Aunt Jean Homer is staying with the girls while Dara's parents, Richard and Wanda McLeery of Brooksville are pitching in.

Close friend Sherry Mainard, wife of Pastor Phillip Mainard of Church of Christ in Homosassa, has been offering spiritual support and is trying to organize fundraisers for the family.

Treatments are costly

The VanHoys pay $1,300 a month for self-purchased health insurance. "Every time, it's still $500 to walk through the door at a hospital," Mainard said.

All Children's has been understanding, noted Dara VanHoy. "They know we don't have the money, so it just comes as a bill to the house." She added, "The bills are piling up."

A trust fund has been established at Center State Bank. "Just walk in," said Mainard, "and tell them it's for Cole VanHoy."

Following Cole's marrow transplant Wednesday, he will remain hospitalized for 100 days to avoid exposure to any illnesses his depleted immune system now can't handle.

And there's still the issue of the Philadelphia cancer.

Beth Gray can be contacted at

Hernando boy's leukemia fight goes global 04/17/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 20, 2008 12:15pm]
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