Last winter, Nick Heisler had terribly swollen lymph nodes and tonsils. Captain of his Bethel Park High School wrestling team, Nick was constantly tired. Although he was nearly undefeated in his division, he couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that something was wrong.
When his symptoms worsened, Nick went to his family pediatrician where he was tested for strep throat and mononucleosis. Although the results came back negative, Nick’s parents Nancy and Richard were certain there was a problem.
After additional testing, Nick’s pediatrician called Nancy at work and explained they had found a malignancy.
“When the pediatrician told me to sit down, I immediately knew there was something seriously wrong,” said Nancy.
Nancy rushed Nick to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC where physicians diagnosed him with acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
“I was in shock,” remembers Nancy. “Dr. Ritchey really took his time explaining things. He was so patient and compassionate.”
On February 1, 2010, Nick began chemotherapy treatment. For the next six months, he spent a month living at Children’s Hospital, returning home approximately every two weeks following treatment.
Unable to leave his room due to the risk of acquiring an infection, Nick passed the time by playing Xbox, using the hospital’s laptops, and spending time with friends who came to visit.
“Nick handled everything with incredible strength and so much dignity,” said Nancy. “He never said ‘why me’ or complained once throughout his treatment.”
In June, Nick acquired an infection so severe that it sent his body into septic shock. As he was wheeled into Children’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), doctors asked him how he was doing. Nick’s response was “super-duper”.
Despite his struggles, Nick always kept his sense of humor. He was able to battle the infection and his organs remained undamaged.
Nick has completed treatment and returns to Children’s once a month for follow-up care. After recently celebrating his sixteenth birthday, Nick is eager to hit the road with his driver’s permit. He is also back to skateboarding and playing hockey with his friends.
“One day your life completely changes and you are at the complete and utter mercy of the doctors and nurses. You never want to have to go to Children’s, but I don’t think [Nick’s experience] could have been any better than it was,” says Nancy.