Christmas doesn’t always come on December 25. Sometimes it comes on April 16, after spending 154 days in the Studer Family Children’s Hospital fighting for your life because you have myeloid leukemia. Kaden’s medical team saw how badly he needed to be at home with his dog, with wrapped presents under a tree, even if it was April 16. The toys you give are a part of a children’s journey. A part of their story.

Kaden is our “why” as we collect toys during this holiday season. Our friends at Studer Family Children’s Hospital shared Kaden’s story with us, and we’d like to share it with you.

Kaden was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and admitted to The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart on November 13, 2017.

For 154 days, Kaden didn’t leave the hospital. Then on April 16, thanks to the hard work and dedication of his case manager, nurses, respiratory therapists and wound care team, Kaden was able to spend five hours in his home, opening Christmas gifts and reuniting with his dog, a Goldendoodle named “Baby,” before returning to the hospital for his next round of chemotherapy.

Kaden’s case manager, Amanda Ruth, has worked at Sacred Heart for six years and has two daughters at home, one of which is a leukemia survivor. But she considers the work she did for Kaden to be just another part of her job.

“Kaden’s hospital stay is by far the longest I’ve seen,” said Amanda. “Helping him get home to see his dog and open Christmas presents — that’s what this position is about.”

Kaden’s journey began on a Friday afternoon in November. He came home from N.B. Cook Elementary School, complaining of a belly ache. Over the weekend, he developed a worsening fever. On Monday, his mother, Rhonda, took him to the doctor and then for lab work. Before Rhonda could pull into their driveway, the doctor called with preliminary lab results.

Kaden and Rhonda went straight to the Pediatric Emergency Room at The Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Sacred Heart, where they met Dr. Debra Cohen, pediatric hematologist/oncologist with the University of Florida.  Kaden was admitted to The Children’s Hospital and started his first round of chemotherapy the very next day.

By his second round of chemo, Kaden’s case had grown increasingly complex. He was moved to the pediatric intensive care unit on Christmas Eve. In the next few weeks, he was placed on a ventilator, underwent a tracheotomy, was treated for wound issues, began kidney dialysis and coded twice. His family, doctors and nurses feared the worst.

But then, Kaden’s health had begun to rebound. He was off the ventilator and no longer needed kidney dialysis.

“When we left the pediatric intensive care unit and got to be on the main Children’s Hospital floor,” Rhonda recalled, “Kaden didn’t just leave. The staff made it a celebration, complete with silly string and music, a party for him.”

Before starting his next round of chemotherapy, his care team began discussing the possibility of sending Kaden home for a brief afternoon.

For Kaden to go home safely, he needed supplies that the insurance company would not offer, since he was not staying home long-term, and that could not leave the hospital — such as a portable suction machine, which the hospital has affixed to its walls, and oxygen, which the hospital cannot transport, since it is a medical gas.

Behind the scenes, Case Manager Amanda sprang into action. She received approvals from hospital administration and Kaden’s insurance company for him to leave campus and spend a few hours at home. She then reached out to a medical equipment company with a special favor. The equipment Kaden needed was loaned to her.

Before Kaden left the hospital, wound care nurses Jamie Christian and Heather Flowers and respiratory therapists Sharon Holler and Alexis James provided Kaden’s mother with extra supplies and education for what to do, in case of an emergency.

Kaden’s mother Rhonda said that he doesn’t talk much. But when asked if he wanted to go home, his eyes were as big as his smile.

“The staff here has been so awesome,” Rhonda said. “Kaden is such a complex patient, and everyone has really put their heads together to make sure he has the best care possible.”

Kaden was only able to spend five hours at home, but his nurse, Tawni Davis, RN, noticed a change in him right away.

“He’s walking. He’s giggling. He walked 16 steps today!” said Tawni. “Kaden is a tough kid, but this visit home was good for his soul.”

Kaden still has two more rounds of chemotherapy and a bone-marrow transplant to go through. But his mother remains optimistic.

“There have been lots of ups and downs,” she admits. “But we are so thankful for this team. They treat Kaden like he is their kid too. When I cry, I can see them holding back tears. They want to cry too. We call them ‘Team Kaden.’ Plus, they take care of me too.”

You can help! All Pen Air locations are collecting new, unwrapped toy donations Nov. 1 – Dec. 1, or you can stop by our drive event Dec. 1 from 10 am – 2 pm at Walmart on Creighton Road. You can find out more details and check out the wish list here.