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A half hour after birth, Dawson couldn’t breathe. This is common among severely premature infants, but Dawson was born barely a month early, and he was a healthy 6 pounds, 3 ounces. Why was such a well-developed infant having trouble?
The staff at their local hospital could not have known that rare leukemia cells were already accumulating in Dawson’s liver and spleen, causing them to swell so much that they were pushing against his lungs. Dawson had developed cancer before he was born.
Once Dawson was breathing normally, Mandy and David brought their baby home, but unusual symptoms accumulated. “He started getting this weird rash all over his body,” says his mother Mandy. “It would last for 10 or 15 minutes; then it would be gone. We said, ‘What is this?’” He also began throwing up his breast milk. Then, at barely 6 weeks old, Dawson was screaming inconsolably, as if he was in pain. “Something told me to take his temperature. I called the advice nurse. She said, ‘Get to the emergency room right now.’”
When the Lobaos arrived at their local hospital, they stood by helplessly as physicians ordered an immediate spinal tap, blood tests, and X-rays.
Doctors knew something highly unusual was happening to Dawson, and they knew they needed the best specialists in the world. “The doctor told us, ‘We’re sending you to Children’s Hospital Oakland immediately.’”
The Lobao family found themselves in the back of an ambulance being rushed to Children’s Hospital Oakland.
When they arrived, Dawson underwent more testing. His shocked and confused parents were quarantined, scrubbed, and taken to 5 South Ward, an air-filtered unit for patients whose immune systems are compromised.
Mandy and David Lobao were informed that Dawson had both acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), two different types of a very aggressive cancer. The infant would be undergoing chemotherapy immediately. But, there was a lifesaving difference for Dawson—he was receiving treatment at Children’s Hospital Oakland.
Dawson’s diagnosis was very rare. Acute leukemias in infants occur in one per 5 million births. Though it was incredibly unlucky that Dawson inherited such a rare cancer, it was incredibly lucky that he was born within driving distance of Children's Hospital Oakland—one of the world's leading hospitals equipped with the personnel and technology to rapidly diagnose and treat all forms of cancer in children.
But, Dawson was beginning his life with a tough road ahead. Infants born with biphenotypic cancer (two types of cancer) begin their lives with a 30- to 50% chance of survival, and only if they undergo a difficult regimen of chemotherapy.
Dawson was the only baby in the chemotherapy ward. Older kids began to comment on Dawson’s uncanny ability to emerge from his harrowing treatments with a smile. “Kids with cancer would come by our room in the early morning before their treatments and say, ‘Can we see Dawson?’” Mandy remembers. “The teenagers especially would say, ‘Wow, your baby has cancer? I was ready to give up, because treatment is painful, but if he can go through his treatment, so can I.’ My husband and I started thinking, Dawson might be going through this, but he is helping other kids to go through this, too.”
With his “showstopper” smile, Dawson became a mini-celebrity among the kids battling cancer. They nicknamed him Awesome Dawson.
Awesome Dawson is about to celebrate his second birthday—with his cancer in remission. He’s kept pace with all his developmental milestones and, in fact, may be a step ahead. He imitates facial expressions and is motivated to learn to walk. You would never know he’s spent more than half his life undergoing an ordeal even adults find difficult to bear.
Generosity from people in our community like you helps families like Dawson’s celebrate these milestones.
We are a not-for-profit hospital. Every dollar you contribute helps provide advanced care for children right here in our area, regardless of whether their family can afford to pay. Each year, your support helps us care for more than 75,000 children facing life-threatening illnesses and injuries.
We are the Bay Area’s only Level 1 pediatric trauma center staffed 24/7 with board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialists. We are the largest diabetes diagnosis and treatment center in Northern California. And our cardiac surgery program has one of the lowest mortality rates for children who have undergone open-heart surgery in the United States.
For families facing cancer like Dawson’s, it is also good to know that Children’s Hospital Oakland is one of the world's leading pediatric cancer treatment centers. In fact, one-third of kids with cancer at Children’s Hospital are enrolled in clinical research programs giving them access to the most advanced therapies available.
As Mandy says, “Our son was just a newborn—so small—and having two forms of leukemia was so rare, especially for such a young age. We were terrified, but knew we were exactly where we needed to be to give Dawson the best chance of survival." They still worry the cancer may return. But they live each day to the fullest with their child. And they take comfort in the fact that Children’s Hospital Oakland will be here for them if they need us—thanks to you!