The Student Newspaper of Catawba College

Leigha Martinelli Tells Us Her Story

Leigha Martinelli, Survivor

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When I was 8 years old I was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma, one of the deadliest childhood cancers. I got hurt playing soccer and continued limping and complaining all night. The pain got worse and worse so we immediately went to Duke. They said I was stage 4 already when the cancer was found, which is the most critical stage. I had tumors in my head, spine, near my heart, and all throughout my body. Neuroblastoma gets inside of the bone marrow and tumors appear on the nerve endings close to the bone. Once it gets in the marrow, it doesn’t stop. They told my parents that with my condition I had less than a ten percent chance to live, but my parents are strong believers in God and believe that “God helps those who help themselves,” and we were going to win this battle.

We immediately started 12 rounds of chemotherapy at Duke. I was constantly throwing up and given blood transfusions. After spending fourteen months in the hospital, they said that my organs couldn’t handle anymore chemo at this time. My parents were left with two choices: one was to give me medication to ease the pain while the cancer took over my body, which would ultimately end my life, and that was not an option for my parents. The other option was to do experimental treatment at Sloane Kettering hospital in New York. The treatment consisted of antibodies from mice that were injected into my veins. The treatment was extremely painful. You could hear the children screaming before you even reached the hall. Each treatment would last between an hour to an hour and a half.

We did that for 8 months until they said there was nothing more they could do, and my cancer wasn’t responding to the treatment. I remember going through this and I told my parents, “I know God is going to heal me, but why is it taking so long?”

We got back in touch with Duke and my head doctor requested we have my brothers tested to see if they were a match for a bone marrow transplant. Although we would be taking ourselves completely off protocol, we opted to do this.

When my parents told my two brothers of this suggestion, my oldest brother Dustin replied, “I know I am a match for Leigha. I know I am the perfect match.” And he was right. I remember him saying he couldn’t explain the feeling of how he knew, but he just did. He was a perfect 6 out of 6 match. After no other choices were left, we decided to have a bone marrow transplant using my brother’s marrow. The only problem now was I still had too much cancer in my body for a transplant. My doctor said she would come up with a plan of treatments and she did. One was to put me in a Lead room for three days where I was given 18 times the amount of nuclear medicine usually given.

The second step was five straight days of the maximum amount of chemotherapy, which would kill off all of my immune system.

The last option was to receive my brother’s bone marrow.

Our chances of survival were small, but our prayers were HUGE. There were prayers coming in from everywhere, all over the world. We survived through hope. God gave us a strength that only he could give. After transplant, I recovered slowly thru the next year. I had no immune system and was constantly throwing up and could not eat on my own. I was given care 24 hours a day. I was fed, and given all medicine through my veins. This went on for a year. I know God has a plan for me, and I thank God everyday for using me as one of his miracles.

A young man named Micha was one of the older patients on the pediatric unit that had cancer. He was from a family with many brothers and sisters. He and his family were devoted Christians. After Micha lost his battle, his mom found his journal. In the journal was an entry where Micha was asking God to witness a miracle before his time on Earth had passed. His mother continued reading through it for days until she saw another entry that read… “Thank you God. Thank you for me being able to witness the miracle of healing. I found out today that Leigha Martinelli has been healed of her cancer.”


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The Student Newspaper of Catawba College
Leigha Martinelli Tells Us Her Story