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Adrianna's story: Using positive energy to persevere through cancer treatment


Panic on Christmas Day

When 3-year-old Adrianna was heating up with a fever and battling other flu-like symptoms, Terri Wilson and her now-fiancé Chris Vaccarello rushed her to their local hospital in Framingham on Christmas Day in 2015. Her bloodwork showed that she was severely anemic, and her physician suggested that she be brought into Boston — to either Boston Children’s Hospital or Tufts Medical Center at Tufts Medical Center.

Adrianna and her mom, Terri Wilson

“I just told them to take me to the best hospital, and they immediately said we’re going to Tufts,” Wilson said.

As soon as Adrianna arrived, Dr. Jason Law and the care team at our Pediatric Blood and Bone Marrow Transplant Program were ready to perform an immediate blood transfusion.

“They saved her life,” Vaccarello said. “They’re heroes.”

More than anemia

However, Adrianna required much more care than one blood transfusion. She was soon diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which occurs when the bone marrow produces too many white blood cells and “crowds out” the normal blood cells. Adrianna had a medical port put in her chest, and she started out on her long road of recovery — nearly 3 years of chemotherapy.

Not wanting to leave her side, Adrianna’s family stayed comfortably at the Neely House, a home away from home located within the medical center that is available to pediatric and adult cancer patients and their families, while Adrianna sought care in the Tufts Medical Center just across the street.

Positive energy from Tufts Medical Center’s care team

Adrianna celebrating New Year's at Tufts Medical Center

“Everything they did for Adrianna was incredible,” Vaccarello said. “She felt like they were her family, and that kind of positive thinking really contributed to her healing.”

Cathy MacPherson, PNP, looked after Adrianna almost every day for her 2 ½ years of treatment. “When Adrianna first came in, she was so timid,” she said. “The key was getting her to trust us by treating her like a child, not a sick child.”

Adrianna’s care was truly a team effort — MacPherson worked with her physician and child life specialists to ensure that Adrianna always had fun projects to work on and was kept to a comfortable routine.

“We had a system that everyone was aware of,” MacPherson said. “We always checked her in the same way, went into the same room, dimmed the lights to her liking, and had the same nurses look after her.”

MacPherson made a special effort to incorporate everyone in the family into Adrianna’s care, like doing “matching check-ups” with Adrianna’s little sister so she wouldn’t feel left out. She also made sure that Adrianna had plenty of time to enjoy being a kid by helping to organize a family outing to Disney on Ice.

“Everyone worked so well together and put in so much time to make the kids and their families comfortable,” Chris said. “No matter how grim things seemed, they were there for us.”

Shy girl turned social butterfly

Adrianna with her mom, dad and sisterNow Adrianna is 5 years old, cancer-free and ready to start kindergarten. She is no longer the same timid little girl that came to Tufts Medical Center years ago — she actually looks forward to her check-ups.

“She used to have so much anxiety, but now she does a dance when she walks in the clinic,” Wilson said. “The staff all calls her ‘happy feet’ and know when she’s here because she brings so much laughter.”

Adrianna was able to recently have her medical port removed, and she’s proud of the scar that symbolizes how far she’s come.

“I really learned how strong kids can be,” Vaccarello said. “I feel blessed to have the chance to come here.”