September 2nd is dedicated to our hero Airim

This is the story of Airim Hernandez, who everyone knows as the “Small, Great Warrior”

Airim was born on Saturday, November 5, 2005. One of the happiest days of my life. His name, Airim, means prince in Arabic. He was always a very active boy, loved to run, jump, and dance. A boy with a special spark, a contagious smile that made even the serious of people smile. 

 

Airim was generally very healthy. Of course he would get a cold here and there, but everything changed on Friday, December 2, 2011. We began our normal day, Airim was in the first grade and was getting ready for school. He told me his stomach was hurting, but I shrugged it off and figured it was because he had drank 5 yogurts. I took him to school and that afternoon when I picked him up he told me his stomach was still hurting. I gave him some Pepto Bismol and at night he began to get a fever. I gave him Tylenol and that weekend everything seemed to get better. He didn’t complain of any pain and he had not gotten a fever. On Monday, he told me his stomach was feeling a lot better, but then I noticed something strange. His gums were swollen and there was blood in between his teeth. I took him to the dentist and they told me that there was no infection and that I should follow up with his primary physician. I took him to his pediatrician that same afternoon and she told me that the stomach pain could be from a virus, but not to worry since he wasn’t having any more fever. She gave Airim his routine urine and blood tests and decided to schedule an ultrasound for the following morning. She prescribed him some antibiotics and medication for his swollen gums and we went home. He began to feel worse and now his gums were no longer red, they began to turn purple! We decided to take him to the hospital, CHOC, and once we arrived they began to run tests, but wouldn’t tell me anything. I was sure it had something to do with his appendix. The nurse came in with an IV and that’s when I realized we would be spending the night in the hospital. I asked the nurse what was going on, she told me they had noticed some abnormalities with his white blood cells and that the doctor would be in soon to talk to me. The doctor finally came in, it was Tuesday, December 6th in the early morning, and I stepped outside to talk to her. I remember her words clearly. She told me that Airim’s liver was extremely swollen, it had grown to double its normal size and that his white blood cell count was exceedingly high too. These were all signs of leukemia, but she had to run a couple more tests in order to confirm the diagnosis. At that moment, my mind froze. So many things came to mind, I wouldn’t stop crying, I was afraid of losing my son. The word CANCER is very strong. 

This is where our nightmare began. Airim was diagnosed with AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia). The most aggressive leukemia a child could get. 85% of his body was covered in cancer! He spend a day in the intensive care unit and the next day he began chemotherapy. That continued for about six months. We had good days, bad days, days of suffering, but our “Small, great warrior” always kept a smile on his face. What better weapon than that to fight this beast? After six months, Airim went into remission on May 10th, 2012. Unfortunately, he didn’t last too long and on October 16, 2012 we were told the leukemia had returned. They gave him a round of chemo, but it didn’t work. His body had grown resistant to the chemotherapy. Airim needed a bone marrow transplant urgently. During that time, Airim needed to receive an aggressive cycle of chemo that would kill all the cancerous cells and then they would be able to give him the transplant. When they began the aggressive chemo, Airim became extremely ill and had a fever for over a week. The doctor did not want to continue with the transplant seeing that it became very risky. When the doctors told us this, we didn’t know what to do. We didn’t have a choice, but to leave it in God’s hands and pray for a miracle. Pray that the fever would go away and that they would be able to begin the aggressive chemo. We met with the doctors on Wednesday and they told us that if the fever did not seize by Saturday, they would not be able to do anything. God came through and the fevers seized on Friday. On Monday, Airim began to receive the aggressive round of chemo that would last nine days. On the tenth day, November 30th, 2012, Airim received his bone marrow transplant. The marrow was donated from an umbilical cord. The first 100 days after the transplant were very stressful. Every week it was something else, fevers, vomiting, intolerable headaches, pain while urinating, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, sores on his private areas, weakness, itching, etc. Apart from all these reactions, Airim had to follow a strict diet for 100 days. Something extremely difficult for a boy his age. Airim reached his 100 days mark and we celebrated with joy. Months went by and his body seemed to be accepting the transplant. The only downfall was that Airim developed GVHD (Graft versus Host Disease). It became chronic in his skin and on one side, it was good that he had developed it since the disease killed the cancerous cells, but on the other, it brought its own set of complications. Unfortunately, the disease spread to his lungs and stomach causing Airim to vomit 3-5 times a day. He began to lose a lot of weight and would become very tired when he walked. Airim could no longer do what he loved, run. Now, he had to be pushed in a stroller, something that was embarrassing for him. 

His body accepted the transplant for 17 months. On May 1st, 2014 I received a call from Airim’s oncologist telling me the bad news – the leukemia was back. This time we didn’t have as many options. A second transplant was impossible due to his chronic GVHD and his body was resistant to the aggressive chemo. The only option left was to use other chemotherapy, that although it wasn’t strong, it would control some of the cancerous cells. It was our only option so we went for it. 

Airim received the first round of chemo for 5 days. His body seemed to be reacting positively to the chemo, but his lungs were beginning to cause other issues. He had to be admitted to the hospital on May 14th and spent about a week and a half. He was extremely ill and the doctors gave him two days left to live. God had other plans, Airim got up and was stronger than ever. He spent about two weeks at home, but he kept getting worse. Breathing became harder and he relied on oxygen all day. On Wednesday, June 4th, my warrior began to get fevers at night. I took him to the clinic the next morning and his blood pressure was high. They admitted him for just one night since Airim wanted to be home. He continued to get worse and on Friday, he was released from the hospital with a different oxygen machine. Once we arrived home, a nurse was there waiting for us and ready to care for Airim. 

On Saturday, June 7th 2014, Airim gained his wings and flew to his new home. He didn’t lose his battle against cancer, he won because he is now enjoying paradise. 

September is childhood cancer awareness month. All these kids deserve our love and support. Let’s honor all those battling childhood cancer and all those who have won the fight and are watching us from above. 

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