Last week, 10-year-old Danny Feltwell Jr pitched in his team’s playoff game – but just two months prior, he was fighting for his life as the donor bone marrow that had been keeping him alive began attacking the little boy’s healthy tissues.
In that short span of time, Danny’s life was turned around with the help of an experimental drug to treat the post-transplant condition threatening his life – but it was hard-won, CBS 3 Philly reported.
A bone marrow transplant had saved him from non-Hodgkin lymphoma had turned against him in the rare graft vs host disease.
There is a drug approved to treat the life-threatening condition, but it is only approved to treat adults.
After a months-long battle, Danny’s father, Dan, a single parent, finally won his fight with the family’s insurance company and got the costly treatment covered.
Now, just two months after receiving an experimental treatment, Danny has made his return to the pitcher’s mound and life as an active kid.
After a years-long battle with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the donor bone marrow that treated Danny Feltwell Jr’s (pictured) cancer attacked his body. Just two months after he started an experimental treatment, the 10-year-old is back on his feet and pitching again
Danny was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma when he was just two years old.
The white blood cell cancer accounts for about five percent of all childhood cancers.
It has a high five-year survival rate (around 80 percent in children) but in some the cancer keeps returning.
The first round of chemotherapy kept the disease at bay for most of Danny’s life, but after four healthy years, the lymphoma returned with a vengeance.
For doctors, that was the sign that chemo wasn’t the best approach to rid the young sports fanatic of the disease.
So began the agonizing wait for a bone marrow donor who would be a match for Danny.
People who suffer from non-Hodgkin lymphoma produce unhealthy white blood cells that form tumors and struggle to fight infection.
The immune cells develop from stem cells, which are housed in the bone marrow.
Diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma at just two (pictured) Danny has spent much of his life sick, in chemo treatments and in and out of the hospital
The first line of treatment for Danny’s disease was chemo, a brutal therapy for the little boy
So the transplant of marrow from a healthy person whose HLA proteins matched Danny’s would replace his defective lymphocytes and rebuild his immune system.
Finally, in 2018, it seemed a cure was on the horizon: Danny’s doctors had found a bone marrow donor who was a match for him.
The transplant worked and he went into remission.
But it seemed Danny had no sooner gotten the transplant than he developed graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).
All patients that undergo a bone marrow transplant have to medication to suppress their immune systems, but Danny’s father worried that the standard drug to treat his GVHD would be ‘toxic’ to him, he told CBS 3 Philly.
Danny’s father desperately wanted his son to be treated with a newer drug, called Jakafi, which the doctor’s said would be less toxic for the little boy.
But there was a hitch in that plan. The Food and Drug Administration has only approved Jakafi for adults over 18. Danny is eight years shy of that.
Neither Danny’s doctors nor his father were ready to give up, though.
They called and plead with the insurance company over and over again.
When Danny relapsed, doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant to replace his faulty white blood cells. His father, Dan, prayed the donated marrow wouldn’t be rejected
Danny and his father were hopeful that the marrow transplant would be a cure, for good
Coldly, the insurance company representative referred to Danny simply as ‘the patient.’
‘I had to correct her and tell her that my sons name is Danny and he is 10 years old,’ Dan said in a Facebook post on April 8.
Danny’s oncologist stepped in and made the case for the sick little boy.
‘It is extremely sobering to hear my sons wonderful and brilliant Oncologist explaining why Danny needs this second line medication to give him the best possible chance for a healthy life. It’s madness that I had to beg another man to approve Danny’s life saving treatment.
‘It is also heart breaking and very stressful for me to Beg another man to not let my son suffer tremendously from Graft vs. Host Disease, I Begged this stranger to give my son another gift of Life and felt like I was helpless.’
After a long fight with the insurance company, Danny finally has the drug he needed to stop the battle between his new bone marrow and his own own body – and to get back to baseball
Eventually, the insurer relented, agreeing to pay for Jakafi.
Danny started the treatment right away.
Not even two months later, the beaming boy was pitching his baseball team’s playoff game on Monday June 3 – just three days after he’d arrived home from the hospital.
‘Danny is an ACE pitcher (facing 37 batters striking out 23 giving up one walk and 5 hits) and an All-Star shortstop again,’ his father wrote.
Danny still faces adversity and yet he gives everything of himself, he is kind and compassionate and Danny loves being on the diamond.’