Brent Emery seemed a perfectly healthy baby. But a terrifying ordeal changed everything. In 2006, at just three months old, his parents rushed him to Emergency at Providence Hospital in Everett with what they thought was stomach flu. But he needed to be flown by Airlift Northwest to Seattle Children's. He was having trouble breathing.
"He was just declining so rapidly that we, looking back, realized he was dying right there. We didn't realize he was bleeding to death," his parents said at that time.
An undetected tumor on his liver had ruptured. Only emergency surgery could save his life.
"We didn't know if we were going to see him again or not," said his father.
With expert medical care Brent pulled through. But the baby would face five more surgeries. His tumor turned out to be a rare liver cancer no one could prevent.
"The overwhelming majority of the time there's no cause we can identify, nothing that's inherited, nothing in the environment. It's probably just a random even that happens purely by chance," explained Brent's doctor Doug Hawkins.
Dr. Hawkins is Associate Division Chief of Hematology and Oncology at Seattle Children's. He's also Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine.
Dr. Hawkins said "Had it not been for everyone on the team, the nurses, the pharmacists, the anesthesiologists, that could bring him through an operating room safely, the kidney doctors that did the work of his kidneys while his kidneys recovered, and the surgeon who did the primary surgery on his liver, he would never have survived."
Brent went through months of chemotherapy. He had a long road ahead, facing many developmental delays.
"His first year as a baby was very important. And he was either in a coma or having cancer treatment, or trying to recover from the six surgeries that he had," explained Susan Emery, Brent's mother.
Then belatedly, Brent began to reach his milestones.
"When he started talking at four years old that was tremendous. We were extremely happy," said Emery.
His future became more hopeful. It made adventures more possible. There was a trip to Disneyland with family. Recently he visited the oncology clinic at Seattle Children's
one last time.
"Climb on up. I know you can do it." Dr. Hawkins urged his shy young patient up to the exam table.
Finally Brent, shy from years of testing for the return of his cancer, has passed a milestone no parent hopes their child will ever need. At six years old he is officially a five year cancer survivor.
"The risk of it coming back may not be zero. But it's as close to zero as it could possibly be," said Dr. Hawkins.
Brent's family brought a cake to thank the doctor and healthcare team that made the special moment possible.
"We appreciate the work of the hospital," Susan Emery said. "That's a lot of cake!" beamed Dr. Hawkins. "Brent, this looks like your favorite colors too," he said to his young patient.
A quiet boy, whose parents say is a non-stop talker at home, has turned a remarkable corner.
"Would you say, "I'm all better now?" asked his mother? "Uh huh"
said Brent shyly as he curled up in his father's arms.
Dr. Hawkins said Brent will be followed throughout his life, to monitor long term effects on his hearing and his organs from the medicines that saved him.