Brownsville boy is ‘a totally different person’ since leukemia diagnosis

Driscoll Children’s Hospital physicians treat Andrew Banda in his hometown, Brownsville

BROWNSVILLE – Claudia Maldonado knew her son, Andrew Banda, was sick in January 2012. At 8 years old, he was too thin and his yellowish eyes revealed he had jaundice, she said. Still, the news that he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) was a shock.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Maldonado said, pausing to hold back tears. “It was very hard to hear. It’s something that you never forget.”

Andrew was diagnosed by physicians at Driscoll Children’s Specialty Center in Brownsville, where he and his family live. In addition to jaundice, he was suffering from low blood cell counts and hepatomegaly, an enlargement of the liver. Hepatomegaly and low blood cell counts – anemia and leucopenia are the medical terms – are commonly associated with ALL, said Cris Johnson, MD, medical director of the Cancer & Blood Disorders Center at Driscoll Children’s Hospital. Dr. Johnson, a hematologist/oncologist, has been involved in Andrew’s treatment since he was diagnosed with ALL.

Soon after Andrew’s diagnosis, he was admitted to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, where he began receiving chemotherapy treatments. Maldonado’s family has no history of leukemia, she said, so her son’s diagnosis and treatment have been learning experiences. Thorough, honest communication from Andrew’s physicians has helped alleviate her fears.

“They explain everything very well,” Maldonado said. “Even if it’s something I might not want to hear, I need to know what’s going on and what to expect. That makes a big difference. They’re very good doctors. I feel very confident with them.”

Maldonado and her parents stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Driscoll to be close to Andrew during his month-long hospital stay. Despite the hardship, he adjusted well to his surroundings.

“He liked it because everyone would spoil him,” Maldonado said with a laugh. “They would bring him movies to watch, and if he didn’t like a certain meal they would bring him something else. I guess he got used to that.”

Nationally, 2,500 to 3,000 children are diagnosed with leukemia each year, Dr. Johnson said, and cases of ALL among children in the Rio Grande Valley are consistent with the national incidence rate. Driscoll Children’s Hospital physicians currently see 35 to 40 cancer patients in the Rio Grande Valley who are undergoing treatment, being followed after treatment or being counseled and monitored for the late effects of chemotherapy, she said. She and other Driscoll hematologists/oncologists regularly travel to see patients at the hospital’s clinics in Brownsville and McAllen. A nurse practitioner is also available at the clinics.

Symptoms that may indicate a child has ALL include paleness, unusual bleeding and bruising, fever, lymph node swelling and bone pain, Dr. Johnson said.

Now 9, Andrew receives chemotherapy treatments at Driscoll Children’s Specialty Center – Brownsville, and he takes oral medication daily as his battle against ALL continues. A third grader, he enjoys school although he’s unable to play contact sports due to a mediport in his chest, Maldonado said. A mediport is a disk placed under the skin that allows physicians to administer chemotherapy medication into his blood vessel or draw a blood sample. Andrew will continue chemotherapy treatments for two more years, his mother said.

Maldonado is upbeat about Andrew’s future, saying that he’s no longer “skinny” like he was in January 2012.

“He’s a totally different person. Back then he was a size six. Now he’s a size 14. I say, ‘Instead of growing up you’re growing from the sides.’ As long as he’s feeling good and healthy that’s all that matters.”