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Miracle Kid: Delaney Doyle

Girl Overcomes Rare Cancer as Hospital Reaches Milestones with Her Care

DelaneyAfter a normal pregnancy and delivery in the summer of 2013, Kelly McMillan knew something wasn’t right with her 15-day-old baby girl. Delaney Doyle’s abdomen was extremely swollen and distended. Kelly, a nurse at Pain Treatment Medicine of the Finger Lakes, and her husband Eric Doyle took their daughter to her pediatrician at Thompson Health’s Thompson Family Care. What the Clifton Springs residents would experience over the next year would test their strength and, ultimately, show how strong Delaney was, all while her care team at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital reached new milestones in cancer treatment.

The results of Delaney’s initial exams by her pediatrician Odet Youssef, M.D., indicated that the newborn baby needed to be brought to the Pediatric Emergency Department at Golisano Children’s Hospital right away. After being admitted, an ultrasound showed Delaney’s liver was extremely swollen and a massive tumor on the adrenal gland on her left kidney posed multiple life-threatening complications.

Kelly and the medical team suspected it was neuroblastoma from the beginning. “Even since the first night we had a strong feeling it was neuroblastoma,” Kelly said. “We would just have to wait for tissue confirmation and staging.”

familyMore testing revealed that the cancer had spread to Delaney’s liver and bone marrow. The next evening, Delaney was admitted to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), and Walter Pegoli, M.D., chief of pediatric surgery, removed the tumor, as well as Delaney’s left adrenal gland.

“The tumor had caused Delaney’s surrounding organs to swell, especially her liver, and a large defect in her abdominal wall,” said Pegoli. “In the end, we had to create a temporary prosthetic mesh lining in place of her abdominal wall.”

Delaney’s case was so complex and the swelling was so severe, Pegoli didn't want to immediately close her abdomen. Delaney remained in the PICU, with an open abdomen, for five weeks. She would undergo her first round of chemotherapy that October.

Delaney’s official cancer classification came back a few days later. The results showed her tumor cells as an aggressive type of neuroblastoma, a form more resistant to chemotherapy.

“Usually children who present with neuroblastoma as young as Delaney have a less aggressive form that often doesn't even require therapy,” said oncologist Lauren Bruckner, M.D., Ph.D. “Delaney’s case was high-risk stage 4, making her neuroblastoma particularly rare, meaning she’d need to undergo more intensive therapies.”

After consulting with national and local medical experts on what would be the most effective and appropriate treatment for a baby of Delaney’s size, the team agreed to go ahead with a full dose treatment plan – keeping the intensity the same as they would with an older child.

Delaney’s abdomen was closed almost a month later and the family headed back home. Their journey continued with more rounds of chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant. Between her fourth and fifth rounds of treatment, Delaney was in remission.

At only 4 months old, Delaney was the youngest patient at Golisano Children’s Hospital to undergo a stem cell collection.

“Delaney’s tiny blood vessels and the size of the tubing were initially cause for worry,” said Bruckner. “Delaney was a trouper, though, and it resulted in a very successful collection.”

MichaelDelaney underwent a stem cell transplant in February, requiring her to remain in the hospital for six and a half weeks. With nearly 200 days spent in at the children’s hospital, Ronald McDonald House Charities of Rochester’s House Within the Hospital and the House at Westmoreland were both a “home away from home” for the Doyles.

“Delaney’s entire medical group, including her doctors, 4-3600 nurses, and so many others, are a part of our family,” said Kelly. “We have the utmost confidence in them as members of our team.”

In May, the Doyles agreed to allow Delaney to be the first patient at Golisano Children’s Hospital to undergo immunotherapy. The therapy used an antibody to train Delaney’s immune system to seek out and fight the active neuroblastoma cells. After receiving the treatment once a month, Delaney completed her last session in September, a year from when her journey began.

“The goal of immunotherapy was to make sure that Delaney continues to remain cancer free,” Bruckner said. “She continues to have no signs of active disease.”

Delaney did not have typical abdominal muscles, but that didn't stop her from crawling and even lifting herself up, demonstrating her strength and perseverance to reach new milestones.

In January, Pegoli finished repairing the muscles of Delaney’s abdominal wall and cleaned up her incision scars from her previous surgery. The Doyles were home within a week from what the family considered Delaney’s “last big step.” 

“We were anticipating the surgery being bigger than it turned out to be,” Kelly said. “We have learned to prepare for the unexpected, but what was thought to be a five hour surgery ended up only being about two.”

After a follow up in February, Delaney’s surgeries were done and she’d no longer need to see Pegoli. “She has certainly beaten the odds,” Pegoli said.

At only 18 months old, Delaney has already overcome grave obstacles, while inspiring numerous people, including her medical team, along the way. “Delaney is a true pioneer!” Bruckner said. “She has paved the way for providing cutting edge cancer therapy for future children at Golisano Children’s Hospital.”

The Doyle family looks forward to “a new normal” with their daughter and the many milestones ahead.