There’s no easy way to say good-bye to a dying child. On the last day of 17-year-old Reilly’s life, his parents, Cathy and Greg, had dinner at his bedside. His younger sister, Nora, sat with him as family and friends visited his room in our pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). They cried, recalled happier times and held hands.
Reilly was a lanky teen who loved theater production, video games and skiing. He hated homework, but dreamed of studying film in college. A doctor visit for what seemed like ordinary symptoms turned into a diagnosis for T-cell leukemia. Reilly was admitted to a hospital that evening and underwent chemo for several months.
The family sought help from Dr. Anne Angiolillo, director of our leukemia program, when they learned Reilly needed a bone marrow transplant. “Dr. Angiolillo made Reilly’s case her case and for that we are grateful,” Cathy says. “She was realistic and straightforward but also very empathetic. We felt like Reilly was her priority.”
Social worker Liz Hardesty helped the family understand the plan leading up to his transplant, but Reilly’s cancer had spread. Our palliative care team supported the family when they learned that Reilly might have only days to live.
It was almost midnight that day in September 2017 when Dr. Nathan Dean and the PICU nurses quieted the monitors and made room for Reilly’s family to gather around him. The room was suddenly still. “That moment was peaceful, private and powerful,” Cathy says. “At that critical time, being at Children’s National where they are so specialized in caring for children with leukemia made his decline more comfortable. It is amazing that they give this kind of care to families every day.”
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