Isaiah Aurandt of Williamsburg was only 3 years old when he battled for his life against cancer.
"I think I have childhood amnesia because I can't remember anything from being sick," the 8-year-old says. "I had cancer, and I had to get my left kidney out because there was a tumor in it. They couldn't get the tumor out cause it was stuck to it, so they had to rip my kidney out."
His parents are quick to explain to him that children most times do not remember their early years of life. The same can't be said of his parents, Rusty and Ellen, who remember every minute detail of Isaiah's illness.
It was New Year's Eve 2008, Ellen had just finished a nap after working third shift. Before heading out for some New Year's party supplies, Rusty said Isaiah was acting a little fussy.
"He was complaining of his stomach bothering him and actually described it as being itchy," Ellen said. "He kept rubbing his belly. We thought maybe he was hungry but he really wouldn't eat anything."
Ellen -- a nurse herself -- had a feeling something unusual was going on with Isaiah.
"I sat down on the chair with him and was holding him until he fell asleep," she said. "I started feeling around his stomach and I could feel a mass in his lower bowel. I could feel it up beneath his rib and, after really freaking out on the inside, I called his pediatrician."
Being New Year's Eve, the doctors at the local pediatrician's office were not in, but the nursing staff shared some possibilities and suggested a warm bath.
"He fussed and cried the whole time and then asked me if he could go to the doctor's house, because he felt sick," Ellen said. "The moment he said that, I knew something was really wrong. I took him to the local hospital and they did an x-ray. They came back and said they would like to do an ultrasound. When they told me that, I knew they saw something."
The emergency room doctor told the Aurandts that there was a mass and it could possibly be cancerous. The doctor recommended the Aurandts take Isaiah to either Pittsburgh or Geisinger Janet Weis Children's Hospital. For the Aurandts the decision was easy.
"We chose Geisinger, because we had heard great things about it," Rusty said. "We thought it would be easier to drive rather than going into the bigger city. We also had a friend in the Danville area that we thought could be a help to us."
"It was just a straight shot for us to get [to Geisinger], jumping on Interstate 99 and then onto [Interstate] 80 and it takes you right there," Ellen said.
The Aurandts had a sleepless night that evening as they worried about all the possibilities of Isaiah's illness. On New Year's Day 2009, they packed some essentials and headed to Janet Weis Children's Hospital. The first person they saw was Jagadeesh Ramdas, M.D., director of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Geisinger Medical Center.
The family spent the next two days at the children's hospital for testing. Dr. Ramdas ordered a CT scan and located the mass. He scheduled Isaiah for surgery on Jan. 8, with Ronald Scorpio, M.D., Director Pediatric Surgery and Pediatric Trauma Surgery.
The family still had to deal with uncertainty, knowing they could not find out the type of cancer Isaiah had until the biopsy was performed. Because of its location near the kidneys, Dr. Ramdas told the family that it was either a Wilms tumor or neuroblastoma, the latter being the more serious diagnosis.
On Jan. 3, the Aurandts were sent home until the surgery. There were more sleepless nights as Rusty and Ellen were completely overwhelmed and worried sick about what was going to happen to their son.
"They told us to be careful that he didn't hit himself on anything or the tumor could rupture," Ellen said.
"He was a 3 ½-year-old boy, so we came home and padded everything in the living room and lived there for the five days," Rusty said. "We super protected the place because we were freaking out about the thought of him hurting himself."
The family traveled to Geisinger on Jan. 7 for Isaiah's surgery. For Ellen having her son in the expert caring hands at Janet Weis Children's Hospital was an immense relief.
"Waiting those few days from Jan. 3 to 7, was overwhelming," Ellen said. "When we got to Geisinger, I felt like we were in a safe haven. I was still concerned, but I thought, 'This is where we need to be.'
"I credit a lot of this to God. I think He sent us to Geisinger and to Dr. Ramdas and Dr. Scorpio - they are angels," Ellen added. "I had barely slept the week prior and during his surgery, I felt like we were in such good hands, I was actually able to take a nap. I felt such relief being there."
Ellen was even more relieved after hearing Isaiah's diagnosis. The biopsy showed that he had a Wilms tumor, which is a more common renal tumor and highly responsive to treatment.
"The treatment for a Wilms tumor is surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Because of the size of the mass, he was a Stage 3 Wilms' tumor, and we needed to use all three options," Dr. Ramdas said. "After the surgery he had to undergo multiple rounds of radiation therapy and chemotherapy."
Following his surgery, Isaiah had a short stay in the hospital until Jan. 15. During that time, Ellen stayed in the room with Isaiah, while Rusty and their older daughter, Olivia, stayed at the Ronald McDonald House of Danville.
"The room and the hospital staff were very accommodating," Ellen said. "There was a day bed in there and that is where I slept at night. It was a private room."
"The treatment of our whole family was beautiful," Rusty added. "We couldn't have asked for more. They took care of all of us."
As part of his treatment, Isaiah also had chemotherapy and radiation therapy, which can be frightening for young children.
"During treatment kids can be terrified of the environment, with the big gadgets and equipment and the big room," Dr. Ramdas said. "Isaiah had tremendous support from our Child Life Program that helped him calm down, helped him understand what was happening with the radiation therapy and helped him through the process. Child Life was a tremendous resource throughout his treatment especially through the radiation therapy."
The staff of Geisinger Janet Weis Children's Hospital made a lasting impression on the Aurandt family.
"Everybody from Child Life to the people who did the MRI's, they were all just very sweet and loving with Isaiah. They were very kind and caring," Ellen said. "He actually has asked to go back, that is how awesome they were with him. He doesn't understand what it was. He doesn't understand the seriousness. He only remembers the good parts."
Isaiah has been cancer free since July 2009 and currently is followed by the pediatric hematology/oncology department at the Janet Weis Children's Hospital outreach clinic in Altoona. Rusty said the family is very comfortable with the Geisinger staff and doctors.
"For anything that involves sedation or anything like that we prefer to be at Geisinger," Rusty said. "Even a blood draw, we preferred to get the nurses in Altoona to do it. They are just so much better at working with kids. It is such a huge difference."
Two years ago in March 2012, Isaiah began to have seizures and because of his history the local hospital suggested he be taken to Geisinger.
He traveled by ambulance to Janet Weis Children's Hospital and initially saw Michal Miller MD, pediatric hematology/oncology, who recommended that Isaiah be seen by the Janet Weis Children's Hospital's neurology team.
"The initial response was to monitor him, because he had only had one or two seizures at that point," Rusty said. "We were given emergency medicine in case it got bad. We could treat him on the spot. As the seizure activity increased, the doctors decided to put him on a daily medicine to prevent the seizures."
Isaiah also is currently followed by neurologists at Janet Weis Children's Hospital's Altoona clinic.
"They are just so helpful and educating. They make you feel like they are doing everything they can," Rusty said. "We are very happy. Location is convenient. All I ever heard when I was growing up is, if you had a child with a problem, you take them to Geisinger. Geisinger is what I always heard was the best and that is where we went."
Donations to Children's Miracle Network at Geisinger help fund programs and activities for the Child Life Department as well as provide equipment and comfort items for the Janet Weis Children's Hospital Altoona Outreach Clinic.