SC family battles childhood cancer during coronavirus pandemic

Updated: Sep. 30, 2020 at 7:25 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For children battling cancer, the coronavirus pandemic has made that fight even more difficult on both them and their families.

Richland County couple Scott and Meredith Gvozdas have four children under age ten. They found out their three-year-old daughter Evie had a rare form of leukemia in June of 2019. She’s in the high-risk category for her cancer, and after weeks-long hospital stays last year, Evie started radiation therapy a few months ago.

With hospital visitation restrictions in place, only one parent could take her to treatment. “I had to go by myself, just the two of us,” said Meredith. “They sedate her while I’m holding her, so she falls asleep in my arms, and then I had to lay her on the radiation table.” Not having her husband to lean on for support was extremely difficult for Meredith, but the hospital did provide a child life specialist to sit with her, so she wasn’t alone.

Because Evie is immunocompromised, the Gvozdas’s made the decision to homeschool her older sisters this year. “There’s so much unknown about COVID,” explained Scott. “There’s so much unknown about how it affects people of different ages and people with different types of immune systems or no immune system, and there just isn’t enough known already. It wasn’t a risk we were willing to take.”

Prisma Health pediatrician Stuart Cramer cares for Evie, and he says he and his staff are doing all they can to make sure patients and their families don’t feel alone. “We are trying to support them with all aspects of not only treating the cancer, but you are trying to treat the family and help the mother and the father and the siblings,” he explained. “Because we can’t have everyone together to be able to do that, it hinders that.”

Fortunately, Evie’s siblings got to meet Dr. Cramer and the nursing staff before the pandemic hit, but they know that not every family has been that lucky. “We have literally said can you imagine had this happened last summer, and we couldn’t both be there for the middle of the night questions or early morning rounds or having the big sisters come up and ride tricycles in the hallway,” said Meredith. “This is our new normal, and they need to be a part of it. Had it happened now, they wouldn’t have that, and that would be really hard.”

While Evie’s cancer battle isn’t over and the Gvozdas’s lives are still different, this pandemic has given them more time together. “I think it’s been a blessing in disguise honestly,” said Meredith.

Dr. Cramer says fortunately Prisma Health Children’s Hospital has not had to limit treatment due to the pandemic, and he adds the hospital is taking extra safety precautions like temperature checks and mask-wearing.

Prisma Health says they are seeing delayed cancer diagnoses because parents are worried about bringing their children into hospitals due to COVID-19 exposure. Dr. Cramer urges any parent who notices something off with their child to get it taken care of right away because they say early detection can save lives.

Evie is in remission but won’t finish treatment until September of 2022.

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