Saving Lucas

At the age of 2, Lucas was diagnosed with pleuropulmonary blastoma, a rare childhood lung cancer. Today, Lucas is 5-years-old and remains cancer-free.

Lucas Youssef endured emergency surgery, intensive chemotherapy and living inside a “bubble” for almost a year. It’s a story of hope, triumph and incredible care.

At the age of 2, Lucas was diagnosed at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego with pleuropulmonary blastoma, a rare childhood lung cancer that starts in the chest, either in the lungs or in the tissue covering the lungs called the pleura. PPB usually occurs in children under the age of 12.

After being diagnosed, Lucas was immediately admitted to Rady Children’s  pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), where he was closely monitored. “The PICU staff was truly amazing!” says Lucas’s mom, Andrea. “The attending physicians, fellows, nurses, and social workers demonstrated superb technical skill and genuine caring for our entire family. Although we were in shock and horrified by what was happening to our son, we were impressed and comforted by what we observed from the  team. It was nothing short of world-class medical care.”

Within a few hours, doctors determined that emergency surgery was necessary to remove Lucas’s tumor, which was so large that it was affecting his heart and lungs. “The attending physician, Dr. Shellington, explained the situation to us with incredible bedside manner while providing a very detailed description of how the decision [to perform surgery] was made,” Andrea says. “We were still in shock and just trying to take in the information. He was very honest about what was still uncertain and assured us that the team would do everything possible to save our son’s life, although it was still unclear if Lucas would live through the surgery.”

A couple hours later, Lucas was taken to the operating room where Dr. Nicholas Saenz would attempt to remove the tumor and save his life. Andrea recalls a moment she’ll never forget. “When Dr. Saenz came into the room to wheel Lucas into surgery, I was begging and pleading with him to save my son’s life.”

The surgery was a success, with approximately 97 percent of the tumor removed. But the treatment wasn’t over. Lucas would need intensive chemotherapy to treat the cancer that remained.

“Our oncologist, Dr. Justine Walker, was incredible,” Andrea says. “I have never encountered a physician with such amazing bedside manner. Dr. Walker and the social work team met with us to provide a detailed explanation of the treatment plan and answered all of our questions.”

Dr. Walker also collaborated closely with the International Pleuropulmonary Blastoma Registry and physicians at the University of Minnesota, who have extensive experience treating the cancer.

The chemotherapy caused many side effects, and Lucas was hospitalized numerous times. Worst of all, it severely compromised his immune system, forcing the family to live in a sterile home environment for almost a year. Fortunately, the treatment worked, removing all traces of the tumor.

Today, Lucas remains cancer-free. The 5-year-old loves his little brother, Bradley, and is Captain America’s biggest fan. For his parents, the physicians of Rady Children’s hematology/oncology team are the real heroes.

“We truly can’t say enough about the hematology/oncology team at Rady Children’s,” Andrea says. “They are truly a world-class unit and worked extremely hard to help Lucas beat cancer and help our entire family to heal. We just want to take this opportunity to say thank you for saving our son.”

Originally published October 2015