What started off as a suspected stomach bug when he was 7 months old turned out to be something much worse that would change the Pianta family’s lives forever. Jackson Pianta was diagnosed with both Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL) and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML) and has spent a huge portion of his life in hospital undergoing intense treatments. This is his story — as told by his Mum, Michelle Pianta:
Jackson had been vomiting, started to get diarrhoea and I noticed his stomach looked swollen. I took him to two different GP’s who dismissed everything I said and told me he was a healthy boy. After the second GP visit, Jackson vomited all over the floor at Woolworths and he just didn’t look right. This was when a midwife saw us and told me to take Jackson, whose eyes were now rolling into the back of his head, to the hospital.
There was immediate concern about 2 dark bruises on the top of Jackson’s forehead and he was sent for a CT scan. A paediatrician came to examine Jackson and I asked him if I should be telling my husband Marc, who was working away, to come home.
I remember the doctor looking up at me and the look on his face said everything. Without seeing the blood results, he was 99% sure that Jackson had leukaemia. We took him straight to the Emergency Department at Perth’s children’s hospital in Perth where he was diagnosed with both ALL and AML. The best way to treat this rare high-risk leukaemia was with intense high dose chemotherapy, which meant Jackson would be an inpatient.
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At the start of his second round of treatment Jackson suffered infections and had to have his broviac removed and a cannula inserted into each arm. He had a bone marrow test which came back showing he was in complete remission. This was amazing news and we were able to go home at the beginning of May 2017.
Being home was great, but life was isolated due to his severe immune suppression. Being so young, Jackson had never been inside a shopping centre, we hadn’t taken him to a playground, and we have only visited his grandparents and cousins’ homes on a handful of occasions.
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We were having regular bone marrow tests and in January 2018, the doctors found leukaemia cells and it was then decided that Jackson would need more treatment and a bone marrow transplant.
Once treatment began again, I noticed Jackson’s right testis was swollen. A biopsy showed that he had gone into a full relapse of AML and the only option was to have 2 high dose rounds of chemotherapy. To make matters worse, Jackson was diagnosed with a staph infection and a murmur in his heart. A cardiologist found a growth in one of his heart valves. We were told that if the antibiotics don’t work, the infection will continue to eat away at his heart and it could spread to other parts of his body, including his brain. My husband Marc and I were terrified for our boy. Everything the cardiologist was saying made us feel like we were getting the talk about preparing to say goodbye to Jackson.
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The growth on the heart hadn’t changed and the doctors thought the best thing would be to leave it and monitor it regularly. The next bone marrow test showed extremely low levels of leukaemia cells and we couldn’t put Jackson’s body through any more heavy treatment.
Jackson went ahead with the bone marrow transplant. After 8 weeks we were given the incredible news that he could be discharged when his bone marrow results came back clear. We couldn’t believe we were leaving the hospital! We left the next day with the nursing staff all cheering Jackson as he left the ward.
It wasn’t long until Jackson was back there. My youngest son Riley had come down with a virus and even after separating ourselves from Jackson, he ended up catching it. He spent the next 5 days in hospital, where he would no longer take any of his medications orally and wasn’t really eating. He caught the virus a second time and we had to do night feeds and supplement drinks to get his weight back up.
Jackson still needed platelets once a week and a cannula every time he needed a transfusion. Doctors were nice enough to let us go home for the day on Christmas Eve and for Jackson’s birthday in January. At our next appointment, a couple of days after Jackson’s birthday, the doctors told us we were going home. We were so happy that we raced back to our room at the McDonald House and started frantically packing.
Jackson and his family still have a tough road ahead of them to beat this horrible disease. The family currently have to wait another three months to see if Jackson’s bone marrow transplant was successful, in the hope that he might be in complete remission. To ensure CCRF can continue to fund life-changing research and offer hope to families like Jackson’s, we need your help.
Your support will assist doctors to find more effective treatments for young children and bring families back together in their own homes sooner. By making a donation to CCRF ahead of tax time, you will be helping to make a tremendous difference.
Geoff Cattach, AM (Chairman)
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