Keanu T Skill and Caring

“It was a miracle."

When Keanu Taylor was diagnosed with acute myelocytic leukemia (AML), the most severe type of childhood leukemia, his family was stunned.

But this was not the first time Keanu faced a medical crisis. He was born with sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder that affects approximately 1 in every 400 African-American infants born in the U.S. each year. His older sister also has the disease.

Since he was a baby, Keanu had been treated by Dr. Kamalakar at CHoNJ’s Pediatric Sickle Cell Program. It was during a hospitalization at CHoNJ for an unexplained fever and pain that his doctors discovered he had AML.

A stem cell transplant would eradicate both diseases, and today, Keanu is the healthiest he has ever been. Through it all, the same caring team of medical at the Valerie Fund Children’s Center at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHoNJ), led by pediatric hematology/oncology specialist Peri Kamalakar, MD, has been behind him every step of the way.

Treating Keanu’s leukemia became his doctors’ top priority, and they initiated the first of three courses of aggressive chemotherapy immediately. But the ultimate treatment for his AML would be a stem cell transplant after chemotherapy. In a stem cell transplant, “The patient’s own cells are destroyed with chemotherapy and the patient is rescued with donor stem cells,” explains Dr. Kamalakar.

With every AML diagnosis, the team at the Valerie Fund Children’s Center begins screening and identifying a potential bone marrow donor among the family members. Keanu’s brother turned out to be a perfect match.

“It was a miracle. I went from looking at Keanu in the bed and thinking he could die, to feeling hope. He could fight this disease with help from his brother,” says Keanu’s father, Roy Taylor.

With the stem cells donated by his brother, Keanu was cured of both AML and sickle cell disease. On its own, Keanu’s case of sickle cell anemia was not severe enough to make him a candidate for a stem cell transplant, but the treatment for AML included the only curative treatment for sickle cell disease.

As CHoNJ doctors and nurses cared for Keanu’s physical condition, other members of the team helped the Taylors cope with the emotional and financial toll of Keanu’s illness. A tutor visited the hospital to help Keanu keep up with his school work. A child life specialist helped him overcome his fear of needles and kept his mind occupied during long weeks spent in his hospital bed. A social worker was there to answer questions and help the Taylors secure health insurance to cover Keanu’s care.

An emotional Roy Taylor describes the skill and caring of every member of the CHoNJ team. Yet it is clear who he holds in the highest esteem. “Keanu is my hero. He made me look at life totally differently. It’s a whole new life, for him and me.”