By Will Fitzgerald, MD Anderson Staff Writer
With the season of giving already upon us, a Haitian boy, who was trapped beneath his home's rubble following last January's earthquake, may have received the most important gift of all from MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center.
Karim Apollon, 8, was on the second story of his home when the fateful earthquake hit. The shock caused the floor to disintegrate, destroying the Apollon family home and sending young Karim into a twisted pile of debris. After being rescued hours later, he was airlifted to Miami for emergency treatment.
Physicians quickly ordered CT scans, which revealed a skull fracture and a larger, more unusual mass inside Karim's brain. At the time, this mass was thought to be a blood clot, resulting from serious head trauma. After recuperating for three months, Karim was excited to return home.
It wasn't long until a sudden phone call changed everything. Just when a sliver of normalcy began to return to Karim's world, physicians from Miami called with serious concern and asked that Karim return immediately for an MRI. The mass in Karim's brain was not a blood clot, rather a pineal germ cell tumor, a cancer located in the middle of his brain. Karim would need surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
The news was heartbreaking. Karim's mother, Tania, recalls telling her son what would have to be done. Karim, an energetic and effervescent youngster, responded as those who know him best might say he would. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "No problem."
Doctors in Miami performed the surgery, where Karim also underwent chemotherapy. His physicians then recommended proton therapy, a highly advanced form of treatment that deposits radiation with such precision that it spares surrounding tissue. For young patients, proton therapy is especially effective because its accuracy greatly limits radiation exposure, an important factor for developing bodies. Tania chose MD Anderson after learning about its successful track record of administering proton therapy, especially to children with cancer.
For five weeks, Karim dazzled his therapists and doctors with his witty charm and funny stories, as well as his fancy footwork, often breakdancing or moonwalking into Gantry Room 3. In between daily proton therapy treatments, he found time to attend his first concert and a Houston Texans football game, and said when he returns to Haiti he wants to ride a motorcycle.
On Dec. 20, surrounded by his family and MD Anderson staff, Karim rang the celebratory gong signaling his 25th and last proton therapy session. With a wide smile, he ended a heroic journey that ironically began with an event that could have ended his life, not saved it.
Karim will return home with a good prognosis and just in time to celebrate the holidays. He said he can't wait to hug his brother.