Care for All: Brandon, Morgan Hill

Mark Shwartz
Sunday, May 1, 2011

At age 10, Brandon Pride of Morgan Hill has been elected school president, competed in the Junior Olympics, and earned a brown belt in Taekwondo.

Brandon’s achievements are extraordinary considering that, when he was 17 months old, he was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a rare form of kidney cancer.

Typically, Wilms affects only one kidney, which can be removed or treated with radiation and chemotherapy. But Brandon had tumors in both kidneys—a large one on the right and a smaller one on the left. In 2002, Packard surgeons removed his right kidney and kept the left one intact. But within weeks, the tumor in the left kidney began to spread.

“At that point, most doctors would have recommended a parent-to-child kidney transplant,” says Brandon’s mother, Keira. But Packard transplant surgeon Oscar Salvatierra, MD, suggested—and successfully performed—a new procedure: he removed the left kidney, cut out the tumor, irradiated the organ, and then re-implanted it into Brandon’s abdomen.

Then Brandon had another setback. A tumor appeared in his right abdomen in the area where the right kidney had been taken out. In 2003 the new tumor was removed by Craig Albanese, MD, the John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn Endowed Director of Pediatric Surgical Services.

Brandon underwent an aggressive schedule of chemotherapy and radiation to combat his relapse. “We spent a lot of time at Packard,” says Brandon’s father, David. “We’re really thankful for the quality of care and the quality of the people there, especially Dr. Neyssa Marina, Brandon’s oncologist.”

Keira agrees. “Dr. Marina is basically a genius,” she says. “She remembers everything. Her mind is amazing. She has a great personality and is super-friendly and energetic. And she always addresses Brandon first—she talks to him on his level.”

During his hospitalization, Brandon spent many hours in the Forever Young Zone, the Hospital’s recreation playroom. He also enjoyed watching movies and playing with therapy dogs. And there were surprises. One day, Pixar artists working on the animated film, Finding Nemo, came to the Hospital and drew pictures for patients.

Now in 4th grade, Brandon has become a top athlete and student. He still goes to Packard for annual check-ups, but he is cancer free. “If Dr. Salvatierra hadn’t suggested that new surgery, Brandon would have had to undergo a transplant and be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life,” Keira says.

In gratitude, Brandon’s parents joined the Children’s Circle of Care, an important source of annual support for the Hospital’s greatest needs.

“We direct a lot of our giving to Packard’s Social Services Fund, so that families who are financially challenged don’t need to worry about things like rent, food, and utility bills,” David says.

“When you spend weeks at a time at the Hospital, you get to know other families very closely,” Keira adds. “Many of them have financial troubles on top of their child having cancer. It’s heartbreaking. That’s why we feel it’s so important to help Packard continue to make its services available to the entire community.”