March 29, 2019/Patient Stories

Youngest-Known Burkitt Leukemia Patient is Loving Life in Remission

Cleveland Clinic Children's doctors create a unique treatment plan for rare cancer

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With his ever-present grin, bright smile and piercing, sky-blue eyes, Hawken – better known as Hawk to his legion of online fans – is the picture of toddler health.

But that was not the case in August 2016, when then-7-month-old Hawk was one of the youngest patients ever diagnosed with Burkitt leukemia, a rare, fast-growing cancer caused by an over-accumulation of white blood cells in the blood and bone marrow.

“There was no way a perfectly healthy boy, who had shown no signs of any illness up until that point, could have cancer,” said his mother, Shannon Hunt. “It didn’t make logical sense.”

Because Hawk’s case was unprecedented in a baby that young, and no research or treatment protocols existed, his medical team at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, had to create a unique treatment plan for Hawk based on their own experience in treating complex cancers.

The team – led by Rabi Hanna, M.D., chair of pediatric hematology-oncology and bone marrow transplantation at Cleveland Clinic Children’s; and Aron Flagg, M.D., a pediatric oncologist – developed an aggressive treatment plan consisting of six, 21-day cycles. Over 148 days, Hawk remained in the hospital and received 14 spinal taps, six aggressive chemotherapy rounds, 13 blood transfusions, eight platelet transfusions and four bone marrow biopsies.

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