Ritvika is, in many ways, what most would consider a typical teenager. She enjoys spending time with friends, playing sports and performing on stage.
But to those who are familiar with her journey over the past decade, Ritvika is a tremendous example of resilience and strength. Ritvika has maintained a joyful outlook despite health challenges and continues to inspire all who know her.
A rare diagnosis leads to a year of intense treatments
When Ritvika was just 6 months old, her mother, Vindhya, noticed she had stopped crawling and using her legs. Her pediatrician referred her to a local hospital for an MRI, which revealed a tumor growing in the bones of her spine. Ritvika was immediately transferred to Children's Medical Center Dallas where she was admitted to the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children's Health℠.
There, Ritvika met Daniel Bowers, M.D., Medical Director of Pediatric Neuro-Oncology at Children's Health℠ and Professor of Pediatrics at UT Southwestern. Dr. Bowers diagnosed Ritvika with Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare cancer that begins in bones and soft tissues. Her tumor was causing compression or Ritvika's spinal cord, and Dr. Bowers suggested they pursue immediate surgery.
"Dr. Bowers told us we couldn't wait much longer as it was already affecting her mobility, so Ritvika went in for surgery the very next day," says Vindhya. "A neurosurgeon tried to remove as much of the tumor as possible, but because it was under her bone and spine, he wasn't able to remove it completely."
A few days after surgery, Ritvika began her first round of chemotherapy. In the year that followed, Ritvika endured 13 additional rounds of intensive chemotherapy. At Dr. Bower's suggestion, she also traveled to Houston for a month of targeted radiation therapy.
"Ritvika's treatment was challenging because of her very young age at diagnosis and the spinal cord compression," says Dr. Bowers.
But, just over a year after her initial diagnosis, Dr. Bowers shared some good news: Ritvika's cancer was gone.
Ritvika does not let scoliosis hold her back
Due to the location of the tumor and the intense treatments needed to eradicate it, Ritvika had lost all feeling in her legs and abdomen, and her spine had been significantly weakened. She eventually developed severe scoliosis, a muscular disorder in which the spine curves to the left or right.
By the time she turned 4, Ritvika began using a wheelchair. Through intense occupational and physical therapy sessions, she learned to dress herself and get in and out of her wheelchair on her own.
Ritvika has had two major surgeries to correct the scoliosis in her spine, and through it all, she has maintained a positive attitude. She enjoys playing sports, including wheelchair basketball and tennis, and plans to participate in track and field when she starts eighth grade.
"People sometimes tell me it must be so hard to be in a wheelchair because I can't do certain things," Ritvika says. "But I like to remind them that my arms do twice as much work as theirs do on any given day, and that working through these challenges has made me stronger and more confident to do things."
Today, more than 10 years after her cancer diagnosis, Ritvika's progress is still monitored by Dr. Bowers through the After the Cancer Experience (ACE) program at Children's Health, the first and largest cancer survivor program in North Texas.
"Ritvika is an inspiration to all of us and an excellent example of the resiliency of children," Dr. Bowers says. "Despite incredible hardships, she has truly thrived physically, intellectually and emotionally."
In addition to routine screenings to identify and address any effects from a patient's cancer treatment throughout their entire life, the ACE program prepares childhood cancer survivors to transition to adult care through customized plans and tools while also advancing research aimed at improving the health of survivors and their families.
"We are very grateful for the guidance we have received through the ACE program," Vindhya says. "They provide health care and age-appropriate knowledge that Ritvika can include in her daily routines to help her prepare for her future."
The After the Cancer Experience (ACE) Program at Children's Health is the first and largest cancer survivor program in North Texas that bridges medical care from childhood to adult life within a centralized medical system. Learn more about our comprehensive oncology services and programs.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children's Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.