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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christian Harr: teen cancer survivor

By J.R. Wagner
A photo from Christian's CaringBridge page.

I met Christian Harr on Facebook of all places.  I remember exactly where I was when it happened.  I was sitting on the R-5 from 30th street station in Philadelphia heading home. He posted something on my page that got my attention and the rest, as they say, is history. 

We've been communicating ever since.  I sent him a few books and posters to take to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital when he was having his hips replaced and he was kind enough to snap some pics (pasted throughout).

Christian was also kind enough to share his story with me and allow me to share it with my readers.

I was 16 1/2 years old when I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (A.L.L.). We went to the doctor’s office on January 21st, 2008 because I had blue and purple spots from my ankles up to my neck. I had also had 4 nosebleeds that day, with the longest one lasting 25 minutes. I had blood taken for testing. Roughly 3 hours after leaving the doctors office we got a call from him saying that I had leukemia, but he wasn't exactly sure which kind because there are so many different kinds. I was so petrified and started crying.

We were told that the doctor had already called the hospital and they had a room set up for me. When I got to the hospital they told me that one January 23 I would be taken down to Memphis, Tennessee by ambulance. (to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital) When we were in Memphis, the nurses ran certain tests to find out which kind of cancer I had. Later they told us that I had A.L.L. and that it was the best kind of cancer to have because it's the easiest to treat.

My oncologist said that I had leukemia cells in my spinal fluid and brain fluid so I needed spinal taps with chemotherapy 6 times in 2 1/2 weeks. After I had my fifth spinal tap my right side became paralyzed. I couldn't talk 20 minutes after the paralysis hit me. Immediately my doctor gave me what he called "rescue drugs." They were supposed to hopefully give me all my movements back. I wasn't able to eat anything for a week. I had a speech therapist who came in everyday to help me speak and to help me swallow. Finally after a week I regained my speech and swallowing.

After two weeks my doctor told us that he wanted to give me the final spinal tap. So a week before I received the final spinal tap the nurses gave me the "rescue drugs" for a week, then I got the spinal tap and then I got the "rescue drugs" for a whole week after the spinal tap. I got paralyzed again, but on the left side this time. My left side came back pretty quickly, but my right leg took three months to come back and my right hand took 6 months to come back. Luckily when my left side became paralyzed I didn't lose my ability to speak or swallow. I had to be taken off chemotherapy for a month so I could recover.

In March 2008 I started receiving chemotherapy again. I was doing great with it, but at the end of March I had another reaction. I had anaphylactic shock and I wasn't able to see for about 10 minutes. I was petrified. I kept trying to talk but my voice just kept getting softer and softer to where the nurses couldn't hear what I was saying. Since I wasn't able to see I didn't know what my room looked like. When I woke up in I.C.U. mom told me there were roughly 20 doctors and nurses all working on me trying to get my blood pressure back up. My blood pressure was around 36/62 (normal being 120/80). Roughly 16 hours after being in I.C.U., I was released. That was definitely terrifying to hear everything going on but not being able to see it or say anything.

I had to be taken off chemotherapy once again. The next time, they started giving me certain chemotherapy shots. After the 10th week of shots I was sitting at home on the couch and all of a sudden I grabbed my chest. It didn't really hurt, it just felt really weird. It kept up so mom and dad took me to the hospital. By the time I got there my chest was hurting. Anything I ate or drank my chest would hurt even more. The hospital had no idea what I had. So the hospital called my doctor down in Memphis, Tennessee and he told them that he wanted me to come down right away. 

As soon as I got wheeled into St. Jude Children's Hospital a nurse looked at me and said that she could tell I had pancreatitis. That was the worst pain I've ever felt in my entire life. I wasn't able to eat or drink for 7 weeks. It's not as bad as it sounds. You're hungry for about a week, but after that you just kind of stop thinking about food. One of the worst parts about it though was I had to be inpatient with pancreatitis on my birthday and I couldn't even eat cake. I had a good rest of the year with my chemotherapy until December 9, 2008. This wasn't chemotherapy related, but somehow I got a bacterial infection.

That day I had to have a spinal tap without anesthesia. My blood pressure was running low again. Later that day I was in the medicine room watching a movie with mom and dad. All of a sudden I coughed and fell back onto the table. Dad was trying to keep me on the table while mom ran out of the room yelling for help. I guess a lot of nurses came running in. I really don't remember this one. I know that I coded (went into cardiac arrest) and I had no blood gases left. The nurses had cut my shirt off and almost had to use the defibrillator on me. When I woke up I was in the I.C.U. again. This time I was in there for 4 days, and then got moved to the regular inpatient floor for 3 more days. One of the antibiotics kept lowering my blood pressure, so they had to change what I could take.

The rest of my treatment went pretty smoothly. One of the chemotherapy drugs caused deterioration to my joints and that's called A Vascular Necrosis (A.V.N.). I now have A.V.N. in my left ankle, both knees, left hip, and both shoulders. I had it in both of my hips but I had a core decompression. That consists of taking a drill and drilling into my dead bone to release pressure. I was still in pain. So then I had a partial hip replacement, and that didn't stop my pain.

This year I had a complete hip replacement and I am feeling great now.

During treatment, my escape was a lot with movies. I'm very big into action, sci fi, comedy, and horror. Horror is my favorite genre by far. I'm a huge Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Leprachaun, and Chuckie fan. My sister used to work in a video store, and when they were closing she bought me $86 worth of movies. I love her so much. 

After I was able to use my hand again I got back into playing video games. I mainly play shooters. Whenever I would get depressed I would listen to my music. I listen to heavy metal and Christian heavy metal. I didn't start reading until later on in my first of my treatment when I found out they had a book cart at St. Jude. They came around to me and I got all five of the Spiderwick Chronicles books. They were very short. After that my books went up to about 250 pages. And from then on I've just never stopped reading. Once I finish a book, I start a new one later that night. Now I'm reading books up to 600 pages. I'm really glad that I enjoy reading. I feel like my vocabulary has really been expanded. That's all I can think of to say for now. Hope it's enough.

Christian's positivity and kind nature are evident just from reading his self-penned life story.  

You can see what Christian is up to on his CaringBridge page HERE. Or, he is a frequent visitor to my Facebook page.

Thank you, Christian for sharing your story...and stay in touch!

1 comment:

  1. That's amazing. It's amazing what a person can have to go through, and amazing that people are smart enough, and nice enough to help them. Amazing self-penned life story.
    Despite his troubles, Christian looks really happy and confident. Especially next to your book!