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By any stretch of the imagination, 11-year-old Chase Malackowski is a remarkable young man. Thanks to the care he received at Children’s Memorial Hospital, he has persevered against a particularly severe form of cancer, and is involved in efforts to help other children who are undergoing similar challenges. A future car designer and “Star Wars” fanatic, he has designed his own Hot Wheels® car and challenged George Lucas to a “Star Wars” trivia contest, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
When he was 7, Chase began experiencing pain in his right heel. After an X-ray failed to reveal the cause, his pediatrician suggested it was probably just “growing pains.” When the pain worsened, Chase’s parents, Jim and Kristi, brought him to Children’s Memorial for an MRI. The test indicated an abnormality, and after a bone biopsy the family received shocking news: Chase had a rare type of bone cancer, Ewing sarcoma, which is diagnosed in fewer than 200 children in the U.S. each year. Even worse, the cancer had spread to his lungs.
“It was devastating,” says Jim. “It’s almost impossible to describe the turmoil you go through as a parent when this happens to your child.”
Jim, a patent specialist with experience in biomedical technology transfer, immediately devoted himself to researching treatment options and consulted with cancer experts at leading pediatric hospitals throughout the U.S. Ultimately, Jim chose the multidisciplinary team at Children’s Memorial’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders for Chase’s care.
“Children’s Memorial offers the most advanced options for treating Ewing sarcoma,” he says. “It also provides the holistic approach of a full-service pediatric hospital in taking an integrated approach with the various specialists treating the child.”
Chase began a year-long course of chemotherapy augmented by cutting-edge complementary therapies developed at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Miami. These clinical trials included an experimental immunotherapy trial of a personalized vaccine developed from a specimen of his tumor, and a topical anti-cancer enzyme.
During his year-long chemo treatments, Chase was on a three-week cycle that included one week as an inpatient at Children’s Memorial, one week at home and one week in school. When he was unable to attend school he kept up with his class via a two-way video hookup.
When Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago opens in 2012, children treated for cancer will benefit from enhanced programs and facilities. They include an expanded clinical research center for patients like Chase enrolled in clinical trials, and all-private inpatient rooms a huge asset for sick kids and their families, according to Jim.
Several months into Chase’s treatments, his right leg was amputated below the knee, as the surgery provided the best option for removing the cancerous cells. Jim praises the hospital’s Rehabilitative Services team, who helped Chase begin walking with his prosthetic leg just six weeks after surgery.
He also underwent a stem cell transplant of healthy bone marrow cells that were captured before he began chemo. Children’s Memorial’s pediatric stem cell program, directed by Morris Kletzel, MD, is recognized as one of the nation’s largest such programs. Kletzel is the Meryl Suzanne Weiss Endowed Professor of Hematology, Oncology and Stem Cell Transplant.
Chase has been in remission for two years, and has quarterly follow-ups with Children’s Memorial oncologist David Walterhouse, MD, the George M. Eisenberg Research Scholar in Developmental Systems Biology.
His interest in raising cancer awareness began when he was offered the opportunity to design a Hot Wheels® car through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Chase, who owns more than 1,000 of the model vehicles, was invited to be the keynote speaker at the 2009 National Hot Wheels® Collectors Convention, which included an auction to benefit the foundation.
“That speech was the proudest moment of my life,” says his dad. “Chase understands the benefits of telling his story and he really enjoys doing it.”
As a member of Children’s Memorial Research Center’s board of directors, Jim is a passionate advocate for supporting translational research — research that brings the latest cures and treatments from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside.
“We are at a unique point in time when research dollars can have a dramatic impact on how quickly new cures can be delivered to patients, including cures for rare or ‘orphan diseases’ like Ewing sarcoma,” he says.