When fourteen-year-old Clayton Smeltz was nine years old, he went through three months of severe headaches, nausea and vomiting. While his parents suspected Clayton’s symptoms were more than just a digestive problem, little could have prepared them for the news they would receive.
Two hours after Clayton’s MRI, Dale and Diane Smeltz got a call from their family doctor. Clayton had a cancerous walnut-sized tumor near his brain stem and needed surgery immediately. Three days later, Clayton was at Janet Weis Children’s Hospital at Geisinger Medical Center, in the care of neurosurgeon Darren Jacobs, M.D.
“I found a cancerous tumor in the back, cerebellum part of his brain which caused hydrocephalus fluid on the brain,” Dr. Jacobs said. “This was causing the nausea.”
Clayton had a medulloblastoma, the most common cancerous brain tumor, according to Jagadeesh Ramdas, M.D., director of pediatric Hematology/Oncology, and would have to undergo surgery to remove the tumor.
Miraculously, the tumor did not attach to the brain stem, although it did attach to the cerebellum, which caused damage to the left side of his body and his muscle coordination there.
“The three hours of surgery were to dissect the tumor as it was slightly stuck to critical parts of the brain,” Dr. Jacobs said. “I was able to completely separate it from the brain stem which allowed Clayton to recover completely with only mild after effects.”
While Clayton’s surgery was a success and his recovery required only a 12-day stay at Janet Weis Children’s Hospital, he still had a long journey ahead of him. Four weeks later he had the first of 30 radiation treatments, five days a week for six weeks, and nine rounds of chemotherapy from April 2008 – May 2009 to ensure that the cancer would not return.
“Clayton’s whole family was very determined to fight this with him,” said Becky Sneidman, nurse practitioner, pediatric hematology oncology. “They fed him without feeding tubes and he went to school the entire time. He went on with life the best he could.”
While the recovery was a difficult process, Child Life, a Children’s Miracle Network funded program, made Clayton’s stay more bearable and enjoyable. Diane remembers how “the doctors and the nurses cared about what you were going through. The pet therapy and ice cream parties made the best they could out of Clayton’s and our situation.” Dale adds that “the staff tried to make Clayton as comfortable as could be. I remember the staff making sure Halloween still happened.”
Child Life programs also help with the patient’s and his family’s understanding of cancer as well as providing a more pleasant recovery, Sneidman explains. “Child Life is used heavily by cancer kids to explain medi-ports for chemo and hair loss, etc.,” she added.
CMN also supports Camp Dost, a program of the Ronald McDonald House in Danville, that Clayton and his supportive brother Trent attended from 2008 through 2012 and have each loved it. Camp Dost is a camp for children who have gone through cancer and chemo treatments and similar disorders to what Clayton had. Children’s Miracle Network funds help pay for patients to attend camp.
“He went through his intense treatment with flying colors without complications,” said Sneidman. “He only has a growth hormone deficiency from the chemo and now takes shots to supplement.”
“As of today, Clayton needs growth hormone shots daily because chemo damaged his pituitary gland,” Diane said. Clayton gives himself the shots and returns to the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital every six months for MRIs and checkups.
“Clayton had a miraculous and successful recovery for such a big brain surgery,” Dr. Jacobs said. “He has gone back to being a normal 14-year-old kid.”
Today, Clayton is a healthy teenage boy who enjoys baseball, soccer and math, because of the care and treatment he received.
“Childhood cancer is treatable, and we can treat kids like Clayton here in Central Pennsylvania,” Dr. Ramdas said. “Children’s Miracle Network funds help to keep us up to date with technology and research so we can keep doing so.”
Donations to Children’s Miracle Network help purchase equipment for the Janet Weis Children’s Hospital oncology department and help fund Camp Dost, a special camp for pediatric cancer patients like Clayton. Camp Dost is a program of the Ronald McDonald House in Danville.