Teen completes treatment for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia amid COVID-19 pandemic

Eli Thompson beat the most common type of cancer in children. He’s looking forward to celebrating his end of treatment.

Eli Thompson dreams of becoming a basketball coach. While the sophomore at Central Hardin High School in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, may have his sights set on championship wins on the court, he has achieved an even bigger win in his young life. Eli is a leukemia survivor, beating B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common type of cancer in children. The condition starts in the bone marrow, and symptoms appear when the leukemia cells begin to crowd healthy blood cells in the bone marrow.

Unforeseen leukemia diagnosis

“In March of 2016, I began experiencing random joint pain,” Eli said. “By October, the pain in my feet was unbearable; I started having trouble walking. I underwent three sets of X-rays along with bloodwork. The results were not what my parents expected. I was then referred to a rheumatologist with Norton Children’s Hospital for further testing and bloodwork.”

On Nov. 2, 2016, Jayna Thompson, Eli’s mom, received the call to pack bags for a long stay in Louisville. Eli was admitted to Norton Children’s Hospital, where he underwent further testing and bloodwork. The next day, Eli was diagnosed with B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He immediately began treatment with Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. The initial stay was two weeks; then treatment moved to weekly for seven to eight months, according to Eli.

B-cell ALL can make children more likely to get infections because they don’t have the protection from the B cells in their immune system.

“By my seventh and eighth grade school year, hospital stays were few until spring break of eighth grade when my vision became impaired,” Eli said. “My parents drove straight from Florida to Norton Children’s Cancer Institute. I was treated for cytomegalovirus (CMV), a serious infection for those with weakened immune systems, in my eyes. This stay included a surgery, taking a biopsy of my eyes along with a bone marrow aspiration and a spinal tap. The treatment has improved the symptoms.”

Help along a difficult journey

Eli and his family faced many highs and lows during Eli’s battle, but they were never alone.

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“If our journey had a theme it would be ‘You’ve Got a Friend in Me,’” said Jayna. “From Eli’s friend Brady visiting daily to play video games with Eli, bringing normalcy, to our nurse navigator Frances Price who was a lifeline to answer questions and offer support, we were well taken care of.”

Known for creating unique names for his doctors and enjoying a good laugh, Eli brought smiles to others during his treatment at Norton Children’s Cancer Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

“Eli and his family have continued to persevere over the years as a family in the fight together, keeping life as normal as possible for Eli with a mix of humor,” said Mustafa Barbour, M.D., hematologist and oncologist with Norton Children’s Cancer Institute.

Eli added, “In July 2017, I had a lengthy stay during my birthday. On day nine, after a special request with the nurses, I was moved to a new room beside the newly created teen room at 9 at night. It was great to have quick access to play video games on an oversized screen, a space to step away.”

To cut down on the number of nearly two-hour round-trip drives from the family’s Elizabethtown home to Louisville, Jayna has been using the proxy access feature of MyNortonChart to communicate with Jae Y. Jung, M.D., Ph.D., an oncologic dermatologist with Norton Cancer Institute, who is treating a mild skin disease related to Eli’s compromised immune system.

Pandemic delays end-of-chemo celebration, but joy persists

On Feb. 28, 2020, Eli received his last treatment. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and requirements for social distancing have prevented a full-scale party, but that hasn’t stopped Eli and his family from celebrating at home. They’re also planning an official end-of-treatment celebration at the Addison Jo Blair Cancer Care Center at Norton Children’s Hospital in the future.

“We want to celebrate with the doctors, nurses and staff who supported Eli on his journey,” Jayna said. “We’re so appreciative of the passionate care he received.”

Eli said, “I appreciate all my doctors and nurses who helped me along the way. I am ready for the next chapter in life.”