Karissa Kruk, who was to enter Grade 3 at St. Francis Catholic Elementary School this fall, has been receiving treatment for her condition at Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital since early July.
“We can't even imagine that this has been going on for us,” her mother, Terra Kruk, told Northern Life. “It's amazing. It's just a real blessing.”
Karissa is one of seven siblings ranging in age from nearly a year old to 19 years old.
Community members have been raising funds to cover the large family's travel expenses, meals, accommodations, long-distance phone charges and future medical expenses incurred because of Karissa's illness.
There have been several fundraisers so far, including a car wash and yard sale and a cupcake sale, some of which have been organized by people the family barely knows.
Donation jars have also been set up at businesses across Sudbury, and a trust fund has been set up at TD Bank. The account number is 04566448415.
This weekend, the Love Changes Everything benefit concert will take place at Our Lady of Hope Roman Catholic Church on Brennan Road starting at 1:30 p.m.
Admission is through voluntary donations to the Kruk family. The concert includes performances by singers, violinists, guitarists and musical groups, and even by the St. Mary's School of Ukrainian Dance.
Most of the Kruk siblings are travelling home with their grandmother this weekend so they can attend the event.
Karissa's oldest sister, Mariah, will give a vocal performance. The young woman, along with her younger sisters Kaylee, Makaylah and Rebekah, will also be dancing with the St. Mary's troupes.
Those interested in finding out more about the Love Changes Everything concert are asked to phone 705-919-8232.
Terra said it's truly a miracle her little girl is still alive.
The first sign of illness was when she and her husband, Dave, noticed Karissa had bruises on her arms and legs. They figured she'd just developed them while playing outside.
But then she developed a high fever, became very lethargic, and started developing spots all over her body caused by bleeding under the skin.
The parents brought Karissa to the doctor's office, where the doctor took one look at the girl, and told them to go to Health Sciences North immediately.
From there, Karissa was airlifted to Toronto's Sick Kids Hospital, where she was diagnosed with leukemia APL, a rare form of the condition.
When doctors checked Karissa's white blood cell count, it was at 150,000, Terra said. Those with leukemia APL are considered to be critically ill if their white blood cell count is at 10,000, she said.
Fortunately, Karissa has responded well to chemotherapy, and her white blood cell count is almost normal again, Terra said.
“Normally you go to Sick Kids and you have leukemia, and it might be a few days later they'll start chemo,” she said.
“Well, within four hours of us flying to Toronto and getting to the hospital, they had chemo started on her because of the severity of what was going on with her body.
“They couldn't even believe she was still alive at that point ... It's a miracle that she's still here, and she's doing as well as she is now, because she was a pretty sick little girl when she got here.”
Even though the chemotherapy has done its job, Karissa has also faced several other health problems.
Leukemia APL makes those with the condition more susceptible to both blood clots and bleeding, Terra explained.
Karissa has had a bleed in the brain, blood clots in her arm around the PICC line inserted to administer medications, and a blood clot in her neck. Most serious was the blood clot in her brain, otherwise known as a stroke.
Fortunately, Karissa appears to have suffered little neurological damage as a result of the stroke, Terra said.
“Doctors are pretty astounded that she's talking, she's reading and she's walking,” she said.
Karissa did lose some function in her right hand, but she's been working with physiotherapists and occupational therapists to regain function.
She has now finished her first round of chemotherapy. However, Karissa starts her second round of chemotherapy next week, which is expected to last for three months.
If Karissa's health remains stable, Terra expects her to be released from the hospital next week so she can be with her family when she's not receiving treatments.
The entire family has been staying in a two-bedroom apartment at Ronald McDonald House in Toronto. The charity provides a home away from home for the families of seriously ill children staying at a nearby hospital.
Throughout the whole ordeal, Karissa has been mature beyond her years, Terra said.
“The doctors and everybody keep saying they can't believe how brave she is,” she said. “She's only seven, but she's acting like a 12 or 13-year-old.”
When Terra told her daughter she could lose her hair because of chemotherapy treatments, Karissa only said “'I know mommy.'”
“I was expecting that to be the most devastating thing for her,” she said. “But just seeing other kids on the floor that don't have hair, she was starting to figure it out on her own.”
They did hit a snag when Karissa had her stroke, and doctors were forced to put her on blood thinners.
To ensure the medication was working as it should, a blood sample had to be taken from Karissa every four hours. It got to the point that there weren't any veins in her arms or even her feet for them to take blood from anymore.
“Her anxiety for blood work was through the roof,” Terra said.
With the school year fast approaching, the family has some decisions to make about whether they're all going to stay in Toronto this fall.
The parents are considering enrolling their school-aged children in the school at Ronald McDonald House.
“We're not 100 per cent sure, but we want to keep everyone here and together, I think,” Terra said. “It's a blessing in itself they have that provision (the school at Ronald McDonald House) here.”