Patients in the Spotlight: Koriemae Spirito
Girl Fights Cancer With A Lot of Spirit
Koriemae “Korie” Spirito started having headaches at 9 years old. Knowing that migraines ran in their family, her mom Jennifer Rivera thought nothing of it, really. As a precaution, Jenn brought Korie to her pediatrician at Westfall Pediatrics where they told her to keep a headache log. The headaches became more frequent, starting earlier and earlier in the day. Korie would also complain of being cold and her family noticed her energy level was considerably lower.
While back at Westfall Pediatrics for a follow up, the pediatrician noticed Korie had a yellowish hue, spotted bruising and several popped blood vessels. Korie's pediatrician ran several blood tests and told the family they would receive a call when the results came in.
That evening – after Korie and her family finished a shopping trip to the mall – there was a message on Jenn’s voicemail that Korie’s white cell blood counts were high and it was very likely that she had leukemia.
Korie’s family rushed to UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Emergency Room where Korie underwent more testing, which confirmed the diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).
“Everything was a fog,” said Jenn. “I knew Leukemia was cancer, but thought Korie would get a blood transfusion and I’d be able to take my baby home.”
Korie was admitted to the former Golisano Children’s Hospital’s 4.3600 unit and stayed for her chemotherapy treatments for the next 33 nights.
“She has a great personality and takes everything so gracefully,” said Korie’s pediatric oncologist Jeffrey Andolina, M.D. “She never felt sorry for herself throughout her treatment.”
“Everyone at the hospital was fabulous,” said Jenn. “It was the most stressful part of our lives, but whenever Korie talks about the hospital it’s about the fun times and experiences, never the medical side of what she went through.”
Korie also had a huge support team in her Gates-Chili community and at school. The Neil Armstrong Elementary School principal declared May 31, 2013 “Koriemae Day,” right after her diagnosis. As an homage to Korie’s “Piglet” nickname she had when she was a baby, her classmates, teachers and principal dressed in pink and several even wore pig costumes.
“Dr. Andolina gave Korie a day pass so she could get out of the hospital and be a part of her special day,” said Jenn. “It was a great way for her to show her classmates that even though she was bald and had cancer she was still the same Koriemae. She’ll never forget it.”
After just over two and a half years of treatment, Korie completed her last IV chemotherapy treatment in June 2015. She continued taking chemotherapy orally at home two to three times a day, sometimes totaling 21 pills, until July. During her last day at Golisano Children’s Hospital, Korie rang the celebratory “end of chemo” bell.
Korie received a number of letters and signs from friends and classmates that kept her strong during her fight. Many of them read “Fight Like a Girl,” a mantra she remembered when she questioned why she got cancer. Korie wouldn’t dwell on the thought for long though, always answering “Because I am strong enough to handle it.”
Although Korie’s cancer and loss of muscle caused her to stop participating in level four gymnastics, it didn’t keep her from playing the French horn throughout her treatment. She looks forward to continuing to perfect her favorite instrument and being a part of the drama club in middle school.