Little miracle defying all odds
Health: International Childhood Cancer Day is Feb. 15
Wednesday, Feb 08, 2017 06:00 am
An Okotoks family has found new perspective in the midst of their most difficult moments.
On March 20, 2013, Caitlin and Josh Bangsund welcomed their healthy 7 pound, 14 ounce daughter, Macey Joyce. She was the youngest of three, and older brothers Hudson, then 3 and Sawyer, 2, were smitten.
However, in the fall of 2014, Macey fell ill and was hospitalized for what doctors believed was dehydration or infection. In November 2014, she was back in emergency with a lymph node infection.
Shortly afterward, the one-and-a-half year-old stopped crawling and didn’t want to be put down. During a doctor’s visit, the family physician noticed bruising and told the Bangsunds to watch for nosebleeds or smaller bruises known as petechia.
“We had noticed a lot of nosebleeds, but again she was just recovering from all these illnesses they kept telling us were probably from having older brothers in school,” said Caitlin.
Over that weekend, her condition deteriorated. By Monday, she’d had a couple mild nosebleeds and slept through most of the day. Caitlin and Josh took her to the hospital, where pale, listless Macey was admitted immediately.
She underwent a series of tests, and around midnight the Bangsunds’ world changed.
“They figured out it was blood cancer, and that it was leukemia,” said Caitlin.
Macey was eventually diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), meaning her bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. She is one of many Canadian children affected by ALL – according to the Canadian Cancer Society’s latest statistics, 1,125 children under 14 were diagnosed between 2009 and 2013.
A two-and-a-half year chemotherapy treatment plan was started immediately, beginning with three months in the hospital. Over time, Macey’s treatment changed to one dose at the Alberta Children’s Hospital per month, and daily oral doses at home.
It had a huge impact on the family, said Josh. Her brothers were four and five years old at the time and it was difficult for them to adjust to mom and Macey being at the hospital. Once she returned home, things got easier, he said.
“She hasn’t had a ton of setbacks, she’s been pretty awesome,” said Josh. “It’s been really a long couple of years, but generally she’s done really good.”
There has been one scare, just before Christmas. Macey fell severely ill at the end of November and was taken to the Children’s Hospital. Doctors said she had a lung infection that had progressed quickly into pneumonia and severe septic shock.
“We used to say Dec. 1, 2014 was the worst day of our lives, but Nov. 28, 2016 eclipsed that pretty quickly,” said Josh. “We were basically faced with the choice of Macey having maybe 30 minutes to live if we weren’t going to make the decision to put her on life support.”
Macey was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, which bypassed her lungs and heart, and flown to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton, because Calgary was not equipped to sustain a child on an ECMO for more than 12 hours.
Her odds of survival were less than 50 per cent because of the leukemia and low immune system, said Josh.
In the first day, testing was done to determine her brain function. When they found lots of activity, Macey was kept on the ECMO for 11 days, growing stronger by the day.
“On the eleventh day they took her off that machine, and her lungs and her heart were working for themselves again,” said Josh. “She was still pretty sick, but there was hope.”
Macey was returned to Calgary, but still spent another four weeks recovering in the hospital. She got to come home on Jan. 9.
One month later, she’s back to herself, and the family is waiting for doctors to decide when to start chemo treatments back up.
“Mentally she’s back, and even then some,” said Josh. “She’s ordering all of us around, demanding her favourite foods and being a normal kids again. It’s awesome.”
Caitlin said they call Macey their little miracle.
“The doctors were just shocked at how well she came through all that,” she said.
The entire family had to dig in and find inner strength.
Macey’s older brothers had their entire worlds flipped upside down when mom and dad left to have their baby sister checked out and were suddenly in Edmonton and not coming home for weeks, she said.
“I think they’re learning strength and resilience and patience in a way maybe they shouldn’t have to,” said Caitlin. “I’ve heard Hudson say he wishes he was sick instead of Macey. They both have real heart for their sister, and they’re praying for her and talking about her at school.
“They’re learning from her in a way maybe they don’t know yet.”
They’re not the only ones learning life lessons. Caitlin and Josh were thrown into a world of medical terminology and forced to become familiar with it all in a very short time.
Now that it’s second-nature and they’ve come through the other side of two traumatic events, Caitlin said the biggest lesson they’ve learned is to live in the moment and appreciate the little things – like celebrating the messes Macey makes or taking her out on an errand run.
It’s also taught them to accept help, she said.
“You get your strength in whatever dose you need for the day, for the moment, for the hour, and really allow people to support you,” said Caitlin.
Josh said the community has been an incredible support over the past two years. Okotoks Minor Hockey dedicated this year’s Friendship Tournament to Macey while she was in intensive care, he said, and all the players taped their sticks pink in her honour.
“You never know how many people care about you until you have a crisis like this,” said Josh. “What we’ve been through, I wouldn’t wish any of that on my worst enemy. We not only almost lost our daughter, but we should have from a medical point of view.
“She was the worst case scenario, but she’s our fighter.”
For more information about childhood cancer foundation efforts, visit www.childhoodcancer.ca.