Tatum had just returned from a fun weekend in San Antonio celebrating her grandmother’s 65th birthday when she started to run a fever. It didn’t go down by the next morning and she began having trouble walking so her mom, Whitney, took her to her pediatrician’s office to figure out what was going on. She tested negative for strep, but her blood work came back abnormal so her doctor urged them to go directly to the emergency room at Children’s Medical Center Plano.
“That’s when I knew something must be wrong,” says Whitney.
When they arrived at the emergency room, Tatum underwent a number of tests, including additional blood work and x-rays on her leg. She was transferred to Children’s Medical Center Dallas by ambulance and around 9 p.m. that evening, which happened to be her father’s birthday, Tatum was diagnosed with leukemia. She was just four years old.
Whitney says the next 48 hours were a blur.
Tatum was immediately admitted to the Pauline Allen Gill Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Health℠, ranked as one of the top pediatric oncology programs in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Doctors soon determined her inability to walk was caused by osteomyelitis, an infection in her bone, and started her on antibiotics and physical therapy right away.
A few days later, a port was surgically placed that would deliver chemotherapy to her body for the duration of her treatment. Because of her infection, Tatum expected to remain in the hospital for at least the first 28 days of her treatment, what’s known as the induction phase.
She responded well to treatment for the first three weeks, but by the fourth week, a serious complication called typhlitis, an inflammation of her large intestine, halted her treatment while the team worked to improve her condition. A few days later, Tatum was rushed to the intensive care unit (ICU) for emergency surgery to remove her colon. She remained in the ICU for a little over a month, where she was also put on a ventilator to help her breathe and dialysis to help her kidneys function.
While she was in the ICU, Tatum’s cancer actually went into remission – news that was met with mixed emotions by her family.
“It was extremely difficult to celebrate the great news about her cancer while she was still fighting for her life in the ICU,” her mom says.
Tatum returned to the oncology floor on December 4, and began intensive Occupational, Speech and Physical Therapy while she completed her inpatient treatment. Nearly a month later – 91 days after she was first admitted – Tatum went home, ready to start the New Year and a new phase of her journey.
Over the course of 2016, Tatum transitioned to a “maintenance” phase in her treatment, which was mostly administered through the outpatient clinic at Children’s Medical Center Plano, and continued in an intensive outpatient Occupational and Physical Therapy program to regain her strength and ability to walk.
Her hard work in therapy paid off, and on Oct. 15, 2016, she surprised everyone by walking down the aisle of her aunt’s wedding as a flower girl without the support of her walker.
Today, Tatum is doing great and is counting down the days to her final chemotherapy treatment planned for Dec. 28, 2017. She attended Camp Esperanza this summer, a camp for patients who are currently receiving or who have recently completed treatment at Children’s Health, and had a successful first day of Kindergarten this fall.
“We had some extremely dark nights when I thought we weren’t going to make it out as a family of three, but we trusted the Children’s Health team and their ability to provide the best care for Tatum and are so hopeful for her future,” says Whitney.