MIAMI - The hardest thing a parent ever has to do is let their faith be bigger than their fear. Chris and Tiffany Randolph faced such an ultimate test when their three-year-old son Isaac was diagnosed a year ago with cancer, Juvenile Myelomonocytic Leukemia (JMML).
JMML is a serious chronic leukemia that affects children mostly under the age of four that accounts for one to two percent of childhood leukemias each year. In the U.S. there is an estimated one to two cases diagnosed per one million children, according to St. Jude’s.
The treatment for JMML includes a bone marrow transplant, a devastatingly difficult and heart-wrenching process for the recipient child, but one that is potentially lifesaving.
A year ago Isaac was a seemingly healthy child when he became very ill, but the road to a proper diagnosis was a crooked path.
“He was vibrant and running. He had spots on his face almost like they would come up like sores on his head and on his face and that was one of the markers. Isaac had gotten really, really sick back in May of last year. It was the last thing from my mind,” Tiffany said. “He was running a 105-degree fever. I took him to the hospital, and they said it was a virus. We tried to wait the fevers out, and they just would not break, and I took him to Tulsa to the hospital. Isaac’s tonsils had gone necrotic, and his blood work was really off.”
Doctors there thought that maybe after his tonsils were removed his blood counts would return to normal.
“But it did not,” Tiffany said. “His platelets dropped out and he was having to get platelets once or twice a week. They did a fairly new test to test for JMML, which is what they were thinking that it was. It came back positive in June.”
The final diagnosis came like a hard punch to the stomach. The very scary and serious life-threatening diagnosis was extremely hard for Isaac’s family to accept.
“I actually had them retest, because I just couldn’t just settle for that,” Isaac’s mother said. “They told us it is only treatable by a bone marrow transplant and it was not something that could be done in Tulsa. So they referred us to St. Jude.”
St. Jude’s is a non-profit 501(c)(3) leading children's hospital pioneering research and treatments for kids with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Before traveling to St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tennessee for Isaac’s treatment the family received some amazing news.
“We found out our daughter Alyssa, she’s 15, was an HLA match, 100 percent,” Tiffany said. “It was huge! I did not realize at the time what a big deal it actually was until we got up there and they were explaining everything to us, and I thought, God you have provided so graciously.”
Alyssa’s gift of bone marrow to her little brother came without any hesitation.
“There was nothing that would stop her,” Tiffany said. “She was very happy and very thankful. She had several weeks of testing before they would even use her bone marrow and even after she had to go through some stuff. “
Isaac was at St. Jude’s preparing for the transplant starting from Sept. 25, 2016. His bone marrow transplant was actually completed on Oct. 4, 2016.
“His treatment lasted only seven days, but it was continual for seven days – It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Tiffany said. “It was horrible. He gained six pounds of fluid, and he was on so much medicine. He was a trooper through it all. He is much stronger than me.”
The bone marrow transplant was a big success, but Isaac experienced a setback early on and remained in the hospital until Nov. 3, 2016.
“His chimerism dropped a week after we got back from St. Jude’s and we had to go back. A chimerism is how much of Alyssa’s cells there are compared to Isaac’s cells,” Tiffany said. “Actually we got the news last week that he hit 100 percent! Oh gosh, I cried and praised God. I thanked the doctor over and over then I thanked God a million times, and I will thank Him every day over and over for the rest of my life.”
This good news means Isaac’s body is recovering and the bone marrow transplant worked to rid his body of cancer and is renewing his body with new healthy blood cells.
“We actually just got back last Tuesday night from St. Jude’s,” Tiffany said. “The doctor was very pleased. He said he’d never been so happy to see a rash because he’s having some GVHD (Graft Versus Host Disease) because that makes that chimerism go up, but I give all the praise to God of course.”
Now the future looks shiny and bright for Isaac. The Make-A-Wish Foundation has contacted the Randolph family offering them a Disney trip.
“We are going to continue to praise God. Isaac has to continue to have a chimerism draw every two weeks to monitor his levels. We’re scheduled to be going back to St. Jude on May 1 just to check on the GVHD and make sure the creams are working to keep him from itching so bad,” Tiffany said. “We go every two weeks to get a CBC, a chemistry and a chimerism and for check ups as they tell us.”
St. Jude’s flies Isaac and his family to Memphis for treatment and all treatment costs are covered by the charitable hospital.
“It is one of the most blessed places I have ever been or seen in my entire life. It’s incredible,” Tiffany said. “Our medical team at St. Jude's and at St. Francis Hospital are incredible.”
The Randolph family leaned heavily on friends and family, but most of all their faith.
“I never thought we would be in the place that we are, but I also know that my faith has grown by leaps and bounds. Sometimes I just think maybe this was God’s plan. Isaac, in his three and a half years, he has now touched so many people and so many lives, and I think as awful as it was, it could have been worse and I praise God that it wasn’t, but if that was His plan for Isaac to draw people closer then who am I to ask why,” Tiffany said. “I’ve never questioned it or asked why.”
His mother describes Isaac as ‘the sweetest kid.” She says he loves sports, including basketball, baseball, football and soccer.
“He’s actually starting Rookie T-ball and so we’re super, super excited about that,” Tiffany said. “When I get home from work he always will say, 'Hey, Mom how was your day at work? How were the kids?’”
Tiffany works at Leonard Learning Daycare and Chris works for the City of Miami. The Randolph’s have a 13-year-old son, Matthew, and Isaac’s big brother is where he gets his love of sports from, according to Tiffany.
Isaac still has to be careful of being around others while his immune system is rebounding, and he misses seeing his friends at daycare.
Tiffany credits her mother and best friend, Carol DuMond, with helping to keep things going at home while she was away. Chris was able to stay for the weeks of the transplant so a parent could be with each child involved, and was able to come every two weeks.
Isaac’s grandparents, David Randolph, Jim Wyrick, Don and Ellen Biddle, and Sandra Randolph were big supports along the way as well.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s been our journey,” Tiffany said.
The Randolph’s were overwhelmed with community support from a benefit spaghetti dinner, baked potato feed, t-shirts sales and silent auction to an outpouring of donations and prayers.
“There have been so many people praying and I can never say thank you enough. It is the most humbling thing ever, it truly is,” Tiffany said.
Isaac’s story will soon be featured in St. Jude’s magazine sent out to donors and on their website.
Tiffany hopes by sharing Isaac’s story others will know the same hope her family has throughout their journey with Isaac.
“Honestly all I can say is pray hard and never give up hope,” she said. “God’s got it. I could have never made it without God. I stand so firm on my faith because honestly, it’s the only thing that got us through.”
Tiffany shares a moving story about meeting a nurse at St. Jude’s on their first time at the hospital in admissions.
“She told me, ‘I just feel like I need to tell you that you should read Psalm 91 over him every day,’ and so ever since Sept. 25, every single day, I’ve read Psalm 91 over him,” Isaac’s mother said.
Psalm 91 from the Bible reads in part, “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, 'He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'”
Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.