Harrison McKinion is my hero.

Five days after turning ten years old he was diagnosed with a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia that was resistant to all chemotherapy. Two weeks later, the day after Christmas in 2011, he suffered a massive stroke which was a side-effect of one of the drugs meant to fight his cancer. After four weeks it was clear he drugs would not work on his leukemia.

He was going to die.

But his doctor, Brent W. Weston at the University of North Carolina, was not content to watch this kid, now bloated and reeling from massive amounts of drugs, slip off into eternity without a fight.

Dr. Weston and a pathologist at UNC had discovered a fusion called EBF1-PDGFRB. These two genes, when fused together, produce a tyrosine kinase that drives leukemia. Only recently had this fusion been discovered. No child had been successfully treated for it. There was a 100% chance Harrison would die.

But research at St. Jude had shown this form of leukemia, which chemo could not kill and had killed so many children, was sensitive to a drug already in use for other forms of cancer.

Contrary to the advice of some other pediatric oncologists, Dr. Weston put Harrison on Gleevec in a last-ditch effort to save his life. Very few people believed it would work. Doctors and nurses in the cancer clinic, they later told us, were distraught over seeing a kid who had beaten a stroke which should have killed him, lose his fight against cancer.

Remarkably, two weeks later Harrison’s cancer was in remission.

For three and a half years he fought the cancer’s return. He endured months in the hospital, weeks at a time. He had to fight off infections, a deadly case of the flu, and the side-effects of chemotherapy. Harrison finished his chemo treatment on April 1, 2015. While his cancer is incurable, we are grateful for Gleevec which holds the promise of keeping his cancer at bay for years, and hopefully decades to come.

His brother, Lachlan, and sister, Blakely, have stood beside him the entire time. They’ve cried with him, encouraged him, fought for him, and been strong when he couldn’t be strong.

As you read through Harrison’s story you’ll meet other amazing heroes who’ve contributed to Harrison’s survival. We thank them all.

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