Parents’ Leap of Faith Saves Their Baby’s Life
“My friends, colleagues, and family said, ‘Run, don’t walk, to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and find Dr. Mignon Loh.”
It’s not uncommon for an infant’s sensitive skin to get irritated. So after baby Quincy developed a rash when he was just over 4 months old, his parents were concerned but had no reason to fear the worst.
Quincy’s diagnosis came as a shock: cancer.
“My friends, colleagues, and family said, ‘Run, don’t walk, to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and find Dr. Mignon Loh,” recalls Lara Stuart, Quincy’s mother.
The awe-inspiring work of Loh and the pediatric oncology team, Stuart says, is the reason she still has her son. That’s because Quincy’s cancer journey could only have happened at UCSF: His treatment relied on precision medicine advancements that our experts are moving forward in real time.
“The scientists, the doctors, the researchers – these are the elite, talented mavericks who are pioneering this new approach to customized medicine,” Stuart says. “They're in the trenches, and they're changing the face of medicine.”
Quincy’s specialized treatment plan was put into motion when his care team recommended a new molecular diagnostic test developed here: the UCSF500 Cancer Gene Panel. By identifying genetic mutations in the DNA of a patient’s cancer, this test enables clinicians to customize a treatment protocol with targeted therapies.
Doctors learned the specific mutation that was causing Quincy’s juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia (JMML), a rare and aggressive cancer. That’s when they asked his parents to take a leap of faith. They suggested a new medication, also developed by UCSF researchers, that had never before been used for an infant — or any child with JMML.
“The risk paid off,” Stuart says. “The medication essentially turned off the gene that was creating Quincy’s leukemia and actually put him into remission even before his transplant. It was basically a miracle.”
The medical team then obtained special approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for a one-of-a-kind bone marrow transplant tailored to Quincy’s needs. The toddler battled through months of side effects but returned home just in time to celebrate his first birthday.
Today, Quincy is “a bouncing, wiggling, giggling little boy, just as he should be – thanks to UCSF,” Stuart says. “How do you thank someone for saving your baby’s life?”
Seeing Quincy healthy is its own reward for Loh.
“I cannot describe the thrill you feel when you can make a little kid who is really sick better,” she says. “I feel lucky because I am doing what I was meant to do.”
For her part, Stuart feels lucky that her family happened to have a world-class pediatric oncology powerhouse right in her backyard.
“It was a big stroke of terrible luck, him getting leukemia. But we had a lot of incredible luck after that,” Stuart says. “I don’t know if Quincy would be here today if we were at any other hospital in the world.”
Mignon Loh is chief of pediatric hematology and oncology, the UCSF Benioff Professor in Children's Health, and the Deborah and Arthur Ablin, MD, Professor in Pediatric Molecular Oncology.