Alex Cook
Jefferson County
Feature Story
One day Alex Cook was a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) worrying about class schedules and homework, the next he was facing the reality of a cancer diagnosis. “It all started with a swollen lymph node in his neck,” said Alex’s stepfather, Michael Lowe. “He did a couple rounds of antibiotics, but it did not go away.”

Alex was eventually referred to Children’s of Alabama following a biopsy and an initial diagnosis of lymphoma. More testing revealed that Alex had T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or T-ALL. Alex was fighting an aggressive type of blood cancer. “Dr. [Ana] Xavier went over the protocol for treating leukemia and we were obviously scared,” said Alex’s mother, Jill Lowe. “But we knew we had a doctor who was caring and compassionate, and was treating Alex as if he was her own child. We had complete confidence.”

Alex received his first few rounds of chemotherapy while still in the hospital. After a few days, Alex was discharged home and made weekly clinic visits to Children’s for treatment. “Thirty days after starting chemo, a bone marrow biopsy showed he was in remission, which was the goal at the end of the first stage of treatment,” Michael said. “That was encouraging.”

Though the news of Alex’s remission was reassuring, Alex also dealt with the setbacks of battling a serious disease. He was hospitalized for fevers and an internal e. coli infection. Then, when he was about to take his last dose of frontline chemotherapy, he was hospitalized again. “He deteriorated rapidly and ended up in intensive care because he had difficulty breathing,” Michael said. “He had developed a fungal infection because of his low immune system. It was systemic, and it got into his bloodstream and lungs.”

Alex stayed in Children’s intensive care unit for 128 days. He was put on a ventilator twice, dealt with a gastrointestinal bleed and experienced pulmonary hemorrhages. Time in the hospital bed led to muscle wasting, so Alex worked with physical therapists at Children’s Robotics and Mobility Program (RAMP) to improve body movement and functional skills with advanced technology-assisted therapies. State-of-the-art Tyromotion equipment helps Alex build strength in his hands, fingers and arms. An exoskeletal-assisted walking device and a harness training system helped Alex stand and take steps. “It focused a lot on core strength and retrained his muscles,” Michael said. “It helped him tremendously as now he no longer even needs a walker and can walk on his own.”

Today, Alex is doing well, following his treatment plan making frequent visits to Children’s for labs and appointments. He looks forward to the day when he’s back in school worrying about class schedules and homework. “I can’t say the road has been easy, there have been many moments of intense pain, but Alex is a strong young man of faith,” Michael said. “He’s taking it one step at a time and continues to look for the positive, and one positive has been Children’s. They have been phenomenal. Our prayers for getting the best care possible were answered.”