Aug 30, 2017, 10:30:20 AM CDT Oct 10, 2023, 2:28:42 PM CDT

An innovative, advanced therapy gives hope to a young cancer patient

Conner in his patient room Conner in his patient room

When Conner began complaining about back and leg pain last summer, his parents took him to his pediatrician in Tyler, Texas, to try to determine what was wrong. After his blood work came back normal, he was referred to his local hospital for an MRI and x-ray. The MRI revealed spots indicative of leukemia, and Conner was immediately referred to Children’s Health℠ for further testing and evaluation. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with neuroblastoma and was admitted to the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health to begin treatment.

“Neuroblastoma is a common type of cancer that often affects the patient’s adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidney, and is a type of cancer than can spread to other parts of the body,” says Tanya Watt., M.D., pediatric oncologist/hematologist at Children’s Health and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. 

Dr. Watt was just one of the many dedicated experts who oversaw Conner’s treatment, which included rounds of chemotherapy, stem cell transplants, surgery to remove a tumor from his right adrenal gland, rounds of antibodies and an innovative treatment called metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) therapy.

MIBG therapy is used in patients whose neuroblastoma either does not initially respond to other established therapies or whose disease relapses after initial treatment was thought to be effective. Nearly one year after his initial diagnosis, Conner’s doctors determined the intensive therapy was the best option. 

During therapy, a special compound, MIBG, was paired with a radioactive iodine isotope and delivered through an intravenous (IV) line into Conner’s bloodstream. The compound seeks out neuroblastoma cells throughout the body and delivers the cancer-destroying radiation directly into the affected cells, resulting in a more effective treatment with fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.  

Due to the radioactive nature of the compound, however, Conner was required to stay in a special therapy suite until his radiation levels dropped down to a safe level for six days. 

The suite is separated into two rooms: the patient’s room and the parents’ room. It’s separated by a large window, which allows for constant visualization between the two rooms, as well as a flat screen television and iPad enabling children to communicate with their family members at all times. Prior to Conner’s therapy, a Child Life Specialist in the Gill Center ensured there’d be special toys in his suite to keep him occupied while he waited for the radiation to exit his body. 

“Being in the room alone for treatment was the hardest part,” he says. But, the family is grateful for the care and treatment they receive at Children’s Health.  

“Dr. Watt is my favorite person at the hospital,” says Conner.  

“The MIBG Children’s Health suite is something we worked very hard to make the best suite that it could possibly be,” says Dr. Watt. “The room is designed to keep everyone as comfortable as possible and to keep everyone as safe as possible during treatment.” 

Conner will receive a few more rounds of antibodies over the next few months, after which a scan will be taken to determine if the neuroblastoma had been eradicated from his body. If so, his cancer will be considered in remission, and he’ll continue to be monitored by Dr. Watt and her team for the next several years. 

In the meantime, Conner will begin school as part of the Homebound Program, where he’ll continue to pursue his love of math and reading. He enjoys playing X-box and looks forward to returning to playing baseball. He also looks forward to receiving a new tree house, courtesy of the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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