Boy's Brave Battle Against Brain Cancer at 'the Best Place'


For more than a decade, Gajjar has been pioneering an experimental protocol for children over 3 with AT/RT, a protocol that could have the potential to save Daniel's life.

"Most patients have some side effects, some headaches, some nausea and vomiting," said clinic nurse Dori Parker. "[Daniel] comes in the clinic every time with a smile on his face and fives me a hug and tells me how happy he is to be in the clinic. And to see us. I mean, you can't get better than that."

Hope for 'Hopeless Children With Hopeless Diseases'

St. Jude is a research hospital, and to be accepted there a child must have a cancer under study, as Daniel did.

Actress Marlo Thomas spearheads the hospital's fundraising, which produces a whopping $600 million annually, making it one of the largest charities in the United States. Her dedication to the hospital is lifelong -- it was founded 46 years ago by her father.

"We are studying what we don't know, because we are a research center," Thomas said. "We are moving our science from the laboratory to the bedside to the patient very quickly."

Thomas says her father's commitment began long before he achieved fame and fortune as the star of TV's "Make Room for Daddy."

"He literally had $10 in his pocket and it was going to cost $50 to get me and my mother out of the hospital," she recalled. "And so the sermon that day at church was on St. Jude, patron of hopeless cases. ... So he took out those little envelopes that they used to put in the baskets and he wrote on it 'Dear St. Jude, no one's more hopeless than I am. ... Just give me a sign that I'm going in the right direction.'

"The next day he got a call to play a singing toothbrush on the radio and the pay was $75. So all through his life he kept having these signs and so he kept saying to St. Jude, someday I will build a shrine to you and for you, and so that's when he decided that he would build a shrine that would be a living place of children, hopeless children with hopeless diseases."

Hopeless children like Daniel.

Dr. Thomas Merchant, the chief of the radiation oncology department, said that Daniel "had great surgery, he's getting excellent radiation, he's going to have very strong chemotherapy."

Still, Merchant acknowledged that the survival rates for this type of cancer are "very low."

"I just can't even bring myself to say -- survival is not very common," he said.

Daniel underwent a series of MRIs to determine if the surgeons in upstate New York were able to remove the entire tumor in his brain and to see if cancer cells were still spreading.

The next day, Daniel and Lisa met radiation oncologist Dr. Larry Kun, who informed them that there was no sign of spreading to the spine, "which is good for you and good for everyone."

"I actually stayed up late one night researching. They say once it gets to the spine you have to take action immediately," said Daniel. "The spine just connects to all the organs."

"That's true," said Kun. "And your spine looks perfectly good."

Surviving Treatment With 'Strength, Hope, Faith'

Despite the good news, Daniel still had a difficult journey ahead as he began a rigorous and painful course of treatment in an effort to save his life.

"He's on a protocol that is very intense, probably one of the most intense in the nation for this type of tumor, so we have to hope that there are children who are going to survive this," said Merchant.

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