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Climb a peak and surpass your summit

After enduring months of chemotherapy, Xivier Valdez felt like his favorite superhero the day of his last treatment. “OK, hold still little Spider-Man,” winked Veronica Jimenez, an oncology registered nurse. Soon she asked the 4-year-old to finish the blood draw. “Go ahead and push to No. 1,” she instructed gently as he flushed the tube to the specified marker. “There you go, not too far.”

“Involving the kids in their care helps them feel more in control,” she explained later.

 Xivier’s parents Sabrina Niave and Matt Valdez of Modesto say it’s this specialized, compassionate care that endears them to Children’s Hospital. “Everyone is amazing – it’s like a second home,” said Sabrina, adjusting the beanie covering her son’s smooth head.

For months the normally active boy experienced stomachaches, fatigue, bloody urine and difficult breathing. Children’s identified a CT scan showing a mass on Xivier’s right kidney as Wilms’ tumor. Only this rare childhood cancer had also unexpectedly grown into vessels, dangerously extending the tumor into his heart. “A cancer diagnosis was scary enough,” said Matt.

Children’s multidisciplinary pediatric specialists quickly developed a strategy. Chemotherapy shrunk the growth considerably but surgery was still necessary. Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr. Malcolm MacDonald, placed Xivier onto cardiopulmonary bypass, a technique that cools the body and takes over the function of the heart and lungs during surgery. The cardiopulmonary bypass allowed the surgeons to temporarily stop Xivier’s circulation and open the heart and vena cava without causing excessive bleeding. Dr. Michael Allshouse, medical director, pediatric surgery and trauma, then removed the tumor in the vena cava and kidney, and Dr. MacDonald concurrently removed the portion extending into the heart.

“Our experts make the complicated look routine,” said Dr. Faisal Razzaqi, pediatric oncologist/hematologist.

Xivier continued with radiation and chemotherapy to eliminate any lingering cancer. To keep healthy, he’ll follow up with Children’s specialists for years.

That’s OK with Xivier and his family. “I saw this ‘negative entity’ invading my son – and I wanted it out,” recalled Sabrina on seeing the original CT image. “We had a choice to go to Oakland or San Francisco, but I knew Children’s would solve it. We won’t go anywhere else.”

Now with a full head of hair and more energy, the boy who loves to roughhouse has found another outlet since he needs to protect his only kidney: “I love to draw superheroes – especially Spider-Man!”

A little hero in his own right, Xivier looks forward to happier adventures ahead.

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