“Pack your bags and go directly to St. Mary’s, William has leukemia.” Surely there must be a mistake thought Stephanie Sunderhaus, upon receiving this message from her sons pediatrician on October 17, 2017.
Stephanie recalls calling her husband Brian, walking into the ER and life as they knew it ceased to exist. “I can remember how my eyes felt from crying, the freezing cold hospital room, and I can still hear the phone ringing in my head when I received that horrific call.” Three year old William was promptly admitted and soon thereafter underwent his first surgery where doctors implanted a port. This device, according to About Kids Health, is an intravenous line “placed inside the body. The tip of the catheter is inserted into a vein in the neck and placed in the large vein just above the heart. A port provides a more comfortable way to receive medicines and from which to have blood samples taken.” Chemotherapy was begun immediately and William spent the next twelve days in the hospital.
Stephanie, very pregnant at the time, with three children and a thriving real estate practice had no choice but to leave her job, cutting the family income in half, and focus on saving William.
While William was undergoing chemotherapy his immune system was virtually depleted, leaving him extremely susceptible to potentially life threatening illnesses due to germs and bacteria. As such, the Sunderhaus’ made the tough decision to isolate the family from everyone except for a few family members. “William couldn’t be exposed to any germs” said Stephanie. “He got RSV in December 2017 which is basically a common cold for us but he had a fever for 14 days and it landed us in the hospital for 25 days.” Keeping the house clean amongst all of the children is a chore in itself with Stephanie and Brian cleaning the house every single night which includes every toy, the doors, floors, bathrooms, banisters, baby gates, etc. Williams sheets get washed all of the time and his clothes are washed separately. Everyone that is around him wears a mask and they don’t have any friends over. They have a commercial air purifier that goes in Williams room at night and in the main area of the house all day. Shoes are left at the door and when Brian comes home from work he goes immediately to shower.
Stephanie and Brian credit their close family support and strong faith (the family attends Christ Fellowship Church in Stuart) for getting them through the toughest part and they believed from the beginning they would see a miracle in their son.
After eight long months, William has reached the maintenance phase allowing the family to return to some semblance of normalcy. He still faces three more years of treatment, consisting of “monthly spinal taps, chemo in his port monthly, daily chemo in the pill form, Methotrexate pills, steroids, and antibiotics” said Stephanie.
Chasin A Dream Foundation is assisting this family through our Hospital Backpack Program. We supplied William with a comfort backpack consisting of items such as a warm fuzzy blanket for the hospital, toiletries, ear buds, toys, socks and most important an iPad to keep him occupied during his hours and hours of treatment.
Update: April 2019. ” It’s been quite some time since we have updated everyone on William. Our family has transitioned into the maintenance phase of William’s treatment and we are loving every second of it. Although William is still on active chemo and has a low immune system, his energy and spunk do not show such. The move to PA has been keeping us busy and we are thankful that spring has arrived! He has been enjoying digging up worms, playing soccer and exploring with his sisters. He is looking forward to riding the monorail at Hershey Park this summer and starting Kindergarten in the fall.
Today, William had his monthly chemo via his port and in his spine through a lumbar puncture (spinal tap). We miss our doctors and nurses at Palm Beach Children’s, but Penn State Children’s Hospital has been a true blessing to our family in many ways. Switching hospitals due to the move was a bit scary, but it has worked out beautifully. William’s treatment remains the same, but to assist with lessening the amount of anesthesia William receives monthly, we were offered to try lumbar punctures under twilight sedation. This has proved to work wonderfully for him. He continues to be amazingly brave and a perfect patient. Twilight sedation allows for shortened appointment times which makes long hospital days much easier and it can be done in the clinic as opposed to an operating room. Another perk is that the hospital is only a few miles from our home. Penn State has a remarkable way of assisting children and their family that face childhood cancer through THON. We are fortunate to be apart of it.
It’s remarkable to see the transformation from last year to this year in our sweet boy. We are so thankful to be able to watch his continued healing. This boy continues to wow us as he bravely endures all the challenges that childhood cancer presents to him with such positivity.
We are so thankful for all the love and support that surrounds our family. Thank you!”