February 2020 brought a global pandemic and a cancer diagnosis to then 11-year-old Paul Smith. Both required isolation and patience. Both would bring tears and sacrifice. But neither could stop Paul’s resilience, a mother’s love or a care team dedicated to getting Paul back to his best.
On a family ski trip, Paul’s cancer let itself be known. Paul loves skiing but, after the first day on the slopes, a pain in his leg was too intense to keep going. Mom, who’s also a pediatrician, was concerned it could be something serious so she made an appointment to have X-rays and blood work done upon their return.
Results showed Paul had a broken femur, but the reason for the break was a tumor had weakened the bone. More tests and a biopsy confirmed Paul’s diagnosis, osteosarcoma, the most common cancerous bone tumor among children, adolescents and young adults.
“I grew up in northeast Ohio and did some medical school rotations at Akron Children’s so I knew of the hospital’s excellent reputation,” said Dr. Tina Smith, Paul’s mom. “The hospital is 2-hours from our home, but it was where I wanted Paul to be.”
Paul’s care team, including orthopedic oncologist Scott Weiner, MD, pediatric oncologist Megan Sampson, MD and other specialists at Akron Children’s Showers Family Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, collaborated to create a individualized plan to help Paul meet his full potential during and after cancer treatment. The plan included 9 months of chemotherapy, removal of the tumor and a difficult decision on how to repair his leg.
Dr. Weiner surgically removed the diseased part of Paul’s femur and replaced it with a metal, expandable prosthesis. Since Paul hasn’t fully developed yet, the prosthesis is equipped with a magnetic device that allows it to grow and keep pace with his body. Every couple months, doctors use a magnetic device to help Paul grow 4 millimeters in just 16 minutes!
While the pandemic is still around, Paul’s cancer isn’t.
“COVID-19 kind of helped me because I couldn’t go to school during my treatment, but no one else could either,” said Paul. “I couldn’t have visitors at the hospital, but Dr. Weiner connected me with another teenager who had the same thing as me so we became good friends and we still are. I also loved visits from my nurses, especially Tionne and Tammy who always wore cat socks because she knew I loved cats.”
Paul, now in 7th grade, is back to in-person school, just like his classmates. He sticks to his care plan of follow-up scans and check-ups every 3 months, while his mom stuck to her part of the plan – getting him the best care possible and a new kitten to celebrate the end of treatment.