Unusual spinal disease stopped boy in his tracks

February 21, 2011 10:43:48 AM PST
A very unusual spinal disease stopped a 12-year-old boy in his tracks.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death among children under 14. now, with earlier detection and more standardized treatment protocols, survival rates are improving.

But, for some cancers, it still takes a combination of theories, therapies, and some innovation, to find a cure.

Wheelchair ping pong may look tough, but it's nothing compared to what 12-year-old Derek Anderson has been through. Just weeks after successful treatment for bone cancer, Derek was suddenly paralyzed.

"It just, all of a sudden everything stopped moving," Derek said.

Body scans revealed a relapse like nothing doctors had ever seen. A tennis ball-sized tumor on his spinal cord.

"It was a big massive tumor, there was literally like about a 90 degree bend in the cervical spine from the tumor," said Michael Joyce, MD, Pediatric Oncologist, Nemours Children's Hospital.

At Jacksonville's Wolfson Children's Hospital, a team of specialists launched an aggressive treatment plan.

"The most important thing was taking care of the cancer because if we didn't take care of that everything else would be for naught," said Ian Heger, MD, Pediatric Neurologist, Wolfson Children's Hospital, University of Florida.

The real breakthrough came from a treatment they'd never used on a child. A powerful, adult drug called Mozobil kick-started Derek's stem cell production for a lifesaving bone marrow transplant.

"With one dose we got enough stem cells to do his transplant, we were very happy," said Dr. Joyce.

"I am very excited that I have no more cancer in my body," said Derek.

Now, after fusion surgery to stabilize his spine and nearly a year of therapy, Derek's getting back on his feet--literally.

"I think the sky is really the limit for him. I don't think there's any doubt in my mind he's going to be walking and running," said Dr. Heger.

Derek is believed to be the first childhood cancer patient to be treated with a drug called Mozobil. Not only can this drug boost stem cell production, doctors say it can also speed up post-transplant recovery.


Jarrod Cody
Media Relations
Nemours Children's Hospital

Vikki Mioduszewski
Media Relations
Wolfson Children's Hospital