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Duke Children's Patient Story: Time to play

No one expects to take a 10-month-old with sniffles to the pediatrician and come back with a diagnosis of cancer. But that is what happened for young Zach. Read Zach's story as part of Mix 101.5's Radiothon for Duke Children's.

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Duke Children's patient Zach with mom
Duke Medicine
Go Ask Mom editor's note: Mix 101.5's 17th annual Radiothon for Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center runs Tuesday through Thursday. Proceeds go to support the work and research at Duke Children's, a place where so many sick children find the help they need. This week, Go Ask Mom is sharing the stories of some amazing kids who have found treatment there. I hope you'll read their stories and, if you are able, support the Radiothon. Today, we'll share Zach's story.

No one expects to take a 10-month-old with sniffles to the pediatrician and come back with a diagnosis of cancer. But that is what happened for young Zach in early 2008. As the pediatrician performed a routine exam, he felt a grapefruit-sized mass in Zach’s belly. Scans would confirm the horrible suspicion — Zach had neuroblastoma . . . at 10 months old.

Surgery revealed that the mass was in a posi­tion too difficult to remove. So Zach was prepped for chemotherapy.

“I can't begin to describe what it was like taking him back for surgery looking 'normal' and then having him wheeled out full of tubes, IV's and a central line from which to receive chemotherapy and draw blood,” says Holly, Zach’s mom. “It breaks my heart just thinking about how every­thing changed from that moment on. My hus­band couldn't take it and had to leave the room -- he didn't know how to hold Zach or what to say to him for comfort . . . what can you say?”

Zach received three more rounds of chemotherapy at the Valvano Day Hospital — an outpatient clinic within Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center. He was very tired and took naps frequently, lost his little bit of hair and had horrible rashes all over his body from the combination of chemo drugs. But through it all, baby Zach laughed and played and could make your heart melt with his grin.

While there for a lengthy chemo session, Holly began to notice that not every station had a televi­sion and that there were children with nothing to entertain themselves for hours on end. A plan began to form in Holly’s head — even in the midst of dealing with her own son’s cancer treatment. She felt compelled to make things better for all the children receiving care in the Valvano Day Hospital. As soon as Zach was better, she jumped into action.

For Christmas, Holly arrived with toys, new flat-screen TVs and a strength given to her by her son. “Zach is a strong, spirited child, and he really kept me going during this ordeal,” says Holly.

And as often happens, Zach and his family left Duke Children’s after distributing the toys feeling that they had received more than they had given. Again the following spring they arrived with a truckload of goodies. The family has started a non-profit called Zach’s Toy Chest.

“I decided to continue my mission to supply toys to Duke Children's so that every child that comes through that door will have something for holidays, birthdays or just a rough treatment day,” says Holly. “I truly believe that what we do for Zach's Toy Chest makes a huge difference in these kids’ lives. Playing is essential when a child is undergoing difficult treatment or procedures. Providing a new game or toy and watching a smile light up a child’s face is a special moment for families, staff and volun­teers. That is enough to make me happy.”

Zach’s Toy Chest has donated more than 3,000 toys, games, books and other items that help boost the spirits of patients of all ages. A well-stocked toy chest ensures that every patient has a gift for holidays, birthdays, and most importantly, a little something to serve as a reward for their courage in fighting their diseases.

Go to Duke Children's website for more about what the hospital and health center offers. Check in on the Radiothon's Facebook page. And click here if you'd like to pledge your support for Duke Children's.


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