Jacob’s Story

Jacob De La Cruz runs around the hallways of Miller Children’s, fighting evil and saving the world, as all superheroes do. His parents, Marella and Richard, smile in amazement at Jacob’s courage, contagious laugh and love for life.

When Jacob was just 2-years-old, he was diagnosed with a rare form of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). His parents were devastated, until the highest level of pediatric cancer care ensured his path to recovery was only a detour from what they had planned for their son.

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After 15 years of chasing their dream to be parents, Marella and Richard were overjoyed to adopt Jacob. However, they noticed right away that Jacob was showing early signs of developmental delays.

“It was taking Jacob a long time to learn to walk, but it wasn’t just that,” says Marella. “We started seeing bruises when he fell down and a rash similar to measles. My mother’s intuition told me something was wrong with my little boy.”

Their pediatrician immediately referred Jacob’s family to the experts at Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center (JJCCC) at Miller Children’s, a leading center for the treatment of pediatric oncology and blood disorders for the Long Beach, South Bay and surrounding communities.

A fast-growing cancer of the blood and bone marrow, ALL is the most common cancer in children. It strikes more than 3,000 children nationally each year, most often between ages 3 and 7. Thankfully for these kids and their families, life-saving advancements in cancer treatment have made it possible for nine out of 10 children with ALL to be cured.

Jacob was immediately admitted to JJCCC, where he began fighting for his life. Additional diagnostic testing revealed that Jacob had the Philadelphia chromosome, a rare variety of the disease that affects less than three percent of ALL patients.

“The Philadelphia chromosome drops survival rates to only two in three patients,” says Etan Orgel, M.D., pediatric oncologist, Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center, Miller Children’s. “We were going to do everything in our power to heal Jacob.”

JJCCC integrates research and technology into treatment plans, giving patients who have cancer or blood disorders access to leading therapies for improved outcomes. As a leading institution in the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), JJCCC is in the top 12th percentile of national and international clinical trial enrollment. Working with Miller Children’s expert team of specialists, the De La Cruzes felt confident when they enrolled Jacob in a clinical trial of a new chemotherapy.

“As a pediatric oncologist who specializes in higher risk and rare types of leukemia, I can only acknowledge the great strides that have been made over the past years due to the participation of families in research,” says Dr. Orgel. “Families like Jacob’s, with dedication to this cause, have changed the very face of how we view children with leukemia. Not long ago the diagnosis of leukemia was a death sentence. Now we can proudly say that most children go on to be cured, go to school, have their own families and live. This has only been possible because of the generosity of Jacob and others like him.”

Despite losing his hair and sometimes lacking energy, Jacob responded well to treatment. The first round of therapy targeted the leukemia in his blood, and a second focused on eliminating the cancer in his spinal fluid. With his real-life enemy defeated, Jacob is back in his cape, flying around the living room as Superman. He is getting ready to start school this fall thanks to his expert care team at Miller Children’s.

“We learned that superheroes come in all ages,” says Marella. “For us, the true superheroes are Dr. Orgel and the entire care team at Miller Children’s. They saved our son’s life.”

For more than 30 years, the JJCCC at Miller Children’s has provided comprehensive, family-centered care to children with cancer, sickle cell disease and other serious blood disorders. All 24 private rooms have been designed to create a home-like setting for the comfort of patients and their families. A multi-disciplinary care approach, from diagnostic techniques to in-depth psychosocial programs, serves more than 800 children at JJCCC.

Board-certified pediatric hematologists/oncologists are available around-the-clock to provide medical and supportive treatments. Because of its demonstrated quality of cancer care, JJCCC has “Three-Year Accreditation with Commendation” by the Commission on Cancer (CoC) of the American College of Surgeons.

To learn more about the Jonathan Jaques Children’s Cancer Center at Miller Children’s, visit MillerChildrens.org/Cancer.

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