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Acute myeloid leukemia

Back pain seems like a common yet harmless complaint. That’s what Katrina Williams thought when her daughter, Hayli, first starting mentioning the ailment. But the problem persisted. Back pain turned into leg pain and Hayli missing school, which was uncharacteristic of her. “It’s not like Hayli to want to stay home, so I knew something had to be going on,” Katrina said.
At first, the family thought Hayli may have COVID—a friend was recently diagnosed with it, and they knew it could cause joint pain. She tested negative, but just to be safe, Katrina took her to the Children’s of Alabama Emergency Department. “They ran full labs and X-rays, and while all the X-rays looked fine, they did discover something concerning with the labs,” Katrina said. “The doctor said it looked like blood cancer.”
A hematologist was immediately called in to examine Hayli’s bloodwork, which did reveal leukemia. “It just came out of nowhere,” Katrina said. “She didn’t have bruising or vomiting or headaches or anything—just back pain, which could easily be attributed to so many other things.”
After two days of testing, it was established that she had acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer that starts in the bone marrow and moves into the blood. Though rare, it is aggressive, so doctors immediately put together a plan for Hayli to receive five rounds of chemotherapy. “The doctors explained that with this particular type of leukemia, you have to hit it really hard, so it was going to require that many rounds to ensure she’d stay in remission,” Katrina explained. “With acute myeloid leukemia, you can go into remission today but be out of it tomorrow. So they were giving it everything to ensure the best outcome for Hayli.”
Chemo was to start the following week, but before it could, Hayli’s pain amplified. “It was so painful for her that she couldn’t even lie down,” Katrina shared.
Doctors were able to help manage Hayli’s pain and begin chemo, which keeps her in the hospital for weeks at a time. “Once her counts recover, we are able to go home for a week or so,” Katrina added. “We’ve definitely spent more time at Children’s than at home, but the experience has been amazing. It has become our home away from home.”
When admitted at Children’s, Hayli gets help with school work as needed, along with visits from volunteers and child life specialists multiple times a week. “The resources they have in place have been phenomenal,” Katrina said. “She always has something to do, whether it be people coming by to play games or just interact with her. And of course she’s getting everything her body needs, including physical and occupational therapies, to get her body where it needs to be.”
Hayli is now in remission. She has completed four rounds of chemotherapy, with one coming up as soon as doctors feel her body is ready. From there, she will continue on antibiotics for a time, along with routine visits back to Children’s. “We’re so appreciative of the doctors and nurses at Children’s,” Katrina said. “Hayli has felt so comfortable with them throughout our entire experience and developed really good relationships with the nurses. They have been so supportive, not just of Hayli but our entire family, through this journey.”