It really and truly does take a village. Just ask parents Todd and Talia Savren-McCormick.
When their 2-year-old daughter Skye was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, the couple dedicated a whopping 299 days to staying at UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital. They spent each moment tirelessly helping Skye as she endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, a second cancer diagnosis, and doctors giving her a bleak 10% survival rate.
Four days shy of her first birthday, Skye was given an overwhelming diagnosis that would leave most parents feeling completely helpless. After a year filled with medical issues like bruises spreading across her body, low blood platelets, and an enlarged spleen, the doctors finally did a blood marrow biopsy on her. It was the defining moment that would reveal the juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia that was ravaging her body. Affecting roughly one in a million, this kind of cancer generally impacts children under the age of 4.
“The option [was] to fight or quit. As parents, we decided we had to keep fighting, and Skye would tell us when/if she was done,” Todd shares with Babble.
Thankfully, after this courageous little girl and her parents dedicated an amazing amount of strength, Skye’s recent tests showed her to be completely cancer-free. And in a moving celebration last Friday, the entire family was honored for their efforts at UCLA’s Blood and Platelet Center.
But they weren’t the only ones being acknowledged that day.
At the annual UCLA event, the Savren-McCormicks got to meet the blood, platelet, and bone marrow transplant donors who helped keep their daughter alive during her medical stay. Sitting in that conference room alongside them were people who gave generously, all without knowing whose life they were helping to preserve. And after already leaning heavily on the kindness of friends and family, the Savren-McCormicks spent this day welcoming more support than they ever imagined possible.
“There was a real palpable sense of gratitude and awe amongst everyone there,” Todd says. “I kept saying ‘thank you’ and ‘thank you’ again from the bottom of my heart to each and every person we met that day.”
Todd and Talia expected to meet only a handful of the 71 donors at the event. They were pleasantly shocked to instead come face-to-face with two dozen of them. And for Skye’s donors, the experience was equally remarkable.
In a moving speech to a tearful audience at UCLA on Friday, Talia shared just how vital the donations were.
“You helped save my daughter’s life,” she said. “Skye’s heart pumps a little bit of you inside her little body. The words ‘thank you’ don’t come close to our gratitude.”
When Skye was pre-treatment, Todd says she couldn’t produce her own red blood cells or platelets. As a result, her energy was low, and her enthusiasm for living was diminished. This made the blood donations she received, quite literally, life-changing.
“She couldn’t carry enough oxygen in her blood to really sustain any normal sense of childhood,” Todd tells Babble. “The donations were, as Talia says, ‘life in a bag.’”
And it wasn’t just the blood donors who positively impacted Skye’s chances of survival. The dedicated nurses who gave Skye round-the-clock care was the Savren-McCormick’s saving grace.
“We were … extremely lucky and appreciative of the nurses that worked in the hospital,” Todd says. “They became extended family to us.”
That kind of support was a welcome addition to the family’s story, which had been fraught with challenge and heartache for far too long.
“It’s not a fight I would EVER wish on anyone,” Todd says. “But we fought it nonetheless, and every time we got knocked down, we stood back up. Because as a parent, there is no ‘quit.’”
While Skye’s little body is still struggling at times to recover in her post-cancer state, her parents continue to fight and believe in a hopeful future for their daughter. It’s a future where they refuse to let a disease solely define their daughter’s existence, whether her cancer returns or not. And this fierce hope is the best encouragement Todd can recommend to families with children who have medical complications.
“When Skye was first diagnosed … we decided that even though there were others that had had this disease, we would not take their story as our own,” Todd tells Babble.
“We were going to have no preconceptions as what would be the outcome for Skye. We would let her make her own story. I can only suggest that everyone does this.”