University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Betting on Harry: Boy Diagnosed With Leukemia Receives Life-Saving Treatment

UCSF Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Team Produces a Miracle

By Kate Volkman | | December 3, 2012

Betting on Harry: Boy Diagnosed With Leukemia Receives Life-Saving Treatment

As the parent of a bone marrow transplant patient, there are a few milestones that you long for your child to reach. Katie and Julian Drake were told that if their son Harry made it to six weeks post-transplant, he was in good shape. If he made it to six months, he was in really good shape. And if he made it to a year, well, he was golden.

Four years later, the Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant team at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital calls Harry a miracle.
The team is widely known for making miracles happen: their efforts have helped Benioff Children’s Hospital rank among the top pediatric centers in the country for higher-than-expected patient survival following bone marrow transplants. In a recent review of 156 transplant centers nationwide, the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research estimated that the median chance for survival at one year post-transplant is 63.4 percent — compared to 87.6 percent at UCSF.
Knowing Your Child Has Cancer
On Nov. 27, 2007, Harry Drake came into the world. The much-anticipated second child of Katie and Julian, Harry was so easygoing that his somewhat reserved English parents went so far as to call him an angel.
In June 2008, the Drakes felt they had finally set a foot on the ladder to the good life. They were the owners of a new home and car, and had jobs they enjoyed. Their elder son, Jack, was an energetic 3-year-old. And at 6 months, Harry was starting to sleep through the night. The Drakes celebrated one Sunday with an outing to a nearby lake, stopping at their favorite ice cream shop on the way home.
But as Katie uploaded photos from the day to her computer that night, one picture in particular caught her eye: a shot of Harry with an odd bump on his head, about the size of a quarter and shaped like a horseshoe.
Bumps and bruises on Harry weren’t new. The day he was born, they noticed a bruise on his face and another on his forehead, but his doctors thought they were birthmarks. Over the next few months, he developed other bruises. A dermatologist diagnosed him with a harmless skin disorder that would likely clear up by the time he reached his first birthday.
The picture from that Sunday told an undeniably different story, however. Katie emailed it to her new pediatrician, who asked her to bring Harry in the next day. After a week of appointments and tests, on Friday, June 13, the Drakes received his official diagnosis: acute myelogenous leukemia, or AML.
“Knowing your child has cancer is bad enough,” says Katie. “Then finding out it’s a rare type, then an aggressive type. Then learning it has spread into his cerebrospinal fluid, he has a 50/50 chance of survival, and the treatment you’re about to put him through is very toxic. It was devastating news.”
Harry started chemotherapy that day.
When the pediatrician told Katie to pack her bag for the hospital, she brought enough for one night. “I had to laugh because I packed just a toothbrush and a pair of underwear for me, but for Harry, I packed all these baby clothes. The irony was that he spent the next six months in mostly a hospital gown.”
After five weeks at the hospital where the Drake boys were born, California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC), Harry finished what became his first round of chemotherapy. Two days later, the Drakes learned that although the cancer in Harry’s blood was in remission, cancer cells remained in his spinal fluid. He was classified as a relapse, and his chances of survival decreased to 20 percent. The only way he might make it was by receiving a bone marrow transplant — and there was no better place than UCSF.
Factors for Success for Bone Marrow Transplants
A bone marrow transplant can be a lifesaving treatment for children with cancer, like Harry, as well as diseases of the immune system, aplastic anemia, inherited diseases of the bone marrow, and some metabolic diseases.