Profile: Being Elijah
Published 2:18 pm Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Elijah was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, which is a fast-growing form of brain cancer. Gary described the tumor as having “fingers wrapped around Elijah’s spinal cord.”
After undergoing a second surgery, Gary described Elijah’s third surgery as one that “scared me more.” Surgeons performed a ventriculostomy, which involves penetrating the skull to drain the cerebral ventricle, a portion of the brain.
“I wondered, ‘Is my son going to be a vegetable after this?’” Gary said.
LIFE OUTSIDE THE HOSPITAL
With Elijah’s medical saga continuing, the family struggled to maintain life outside the hospital walls.
Gary, who was employed as a motorcycle mechanic, lost his job due to the economy’s downturn. Vasiliki was employed until Elijah’s health problems began, then “all of us were living in the hospital,” she said.
The Seritts owned a home in Childersburg, where the couple was married when Vasiliki moved from California. According to Gary, confusion with a social worker and a missing house payment created a scenario in which the family had to sell the house.
“It was hard to focus on the outside world because our son was laying in front of us, fighting for his life,” Gary said. “It was the worst-case scenario every time.”
A lawyer visited Elijah’s hospital room with papers for the home’s short sale.
“I just thought, ‘Can’t we do this somewhere else?’ He didn’t even ask how Elijah was,” Gary said. “I can’t describe the feeling we had. There was no relief with that.”
“We were married on the property and brought Elijah home to that house,” Vasiliki said. “It was not just a property; it was a home.”
During this time, Vasiliki was in the third trimester of her pregnancy.
According to Gary, Vasiliki’s doctors and Elijah’s oncologists sat around a conference table to plan Elijah’s next treatments and Vasiliki’s labor schedule.
Dimitra was born Jan. 23, 2009 after Vasiliki was induced.
“Fifteen minutes later, I had to get back to the hospital. Elijah needed an MRI,” Gary said. “I cut the cord, kissed Mom and went back to Children’s.”
LIFE IN THE HOSPITAL
Weeks in the hospital became the family’s norm as Elijah underwent six months of chemotherapy. Elijah spent a total of two to three weeks outside the hospital during the six-month duration.
One bright spot was the Children’s Hospital staff, including “Elijah’s favorite nurse,” Cie Washburn, who was working in the oncology unit.
“As a nurse, I try not to establish relationships with parents and families because you have to separate yourself, but we had a bond,” Washburn said. “He’s an amazing child. He spoke to my heart. They’re such a close-knit family. They kept their faith through the whole ordeal. They really touched me.”
Elijah’s chemotherapy was paired with stem-cell treatments.
“They give a deadly dose of chemo, and they reintroduce the stem cells back to you. It takes 10 days for the cells to (take effect),” Gary said. “The right way would have been to treat Elijah through radiation, but he was too young.”
To collect Elijah’s stem cells, doctors used an apheresis machine to extract Elijah’s blood, separate out the stem cells and return the blood to Elijah’s body. During the process, Elijah coded and was revived with the crash cart.