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Young cancer patient brightens lives with smile

School support

Posted: November 14, 2012 - 1:01am
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Re'Ana Hall is introduced by Debby Wright, her former third-grade teacher, to Wright's class.  Her prosthetic leg will cost about $20,000, and she will need to get a new one as she keeps growing.  Photo by Jim Blaylock
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Re'Ana Hall is introduced by Debby Wright, her former third-grade teacher, to Wright's class. Her prosthetic leg will cost about $20,000, and she will need to get a new one as she keeps growing.

Seven months ago, Re’Ana Hall was a typical pupil at Stevens Creek Elementary School.

The precocious fifth-grader enjoyed playing with her friends at recess, loved playing soccer and baseball and looked forward to her physical education class.

Re’Ana, like many girls her age, didn’t have to worry about life’s more serious issues.

Then one day in April, Re’Ana fell on the school’s playground and everything changed.

Regina Hall said her daughter came home from school that day complaining that her right ankle hurt. Thinking Re’Ana had a sprain, her mom bandaged her ankle and waited for it to heal.

When it hadn’t two weeks later, Hall took Re’Ana to a pediatrician, where an X-ray showed no sign of a broken bone.

Reassured by the doctor that it was a sprain, Hall and Re’Ana returned home.

Two months later, they were back at the doctor’s.

“On this particular day, she couldn’t even walk,” Hall said of her only child. “Since she couldn’t walk, I demanded her pediatrician do something about it.”

Re’Ana was referred to an orthopedic specialist, who noticed something was wrong.

At Georgia Health Sciences Children’s Medical Center, Re’Ana was given an MRI that determined the cause of her painful ankle.

On June 23, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma – a rare type of bone cancer often associated with rapid bone growth in adolescents. Re’Ana, now 11, has grown 3 inches since May and is now 5 feet 6 inches tall.

About 800 cases of osteosarcoma are diagnosed annually in the United States, according to the American Can­cer Society. About half of those are in children and teens.

Though doctors caught Re’Ana’s cancer before it had metastasized, the disease had already advanced to between stages three and four.

“I’m still in shock,” Hall said. “If she would have never fell on the playground, we would have never known.”

Since her diagnosis, Re’Ana has undergone 12 rounds of chemotherapy, which will continue until June.

After her 10th round of treatment, doctors decided to amputate Re’Ana’s leg below the knee. She had the surgery in early October.

School support

When Stevens Creek PE teacher Barbara Outley heard about Re’Ana’s illness, she decided to turn the school’s annual fall Fun Run, being held Thursday and Friday, into a fundraiser for the family.

“Re’Ana has the biggest smile you’ve ever seen and was always smiling,” Outley said. “She’s just full of life.”

Re’Ana’s prosthetic leg will cost about $20,000 and insurance will pay for only part of that, Hall said.

Because Re’Ana is still growing, she’ll need a new leg in about two years, Hall said. Re’Ana also will need a prosthetic leg for running and another for aquatic use, which insurance won’t cover.

For about a month, pupils have done projects such as raking yards, manning lemonade stands and selling bracelets to raise money. They will turn in the raised funds this week.

Pupils have also been making banners, signs and get-well cards for their former classmate.

“She loves the fact that she has her Stevens Creek family,” Hall said. “And I call them family, because that’s what they are.”

Re’Ana is now a homebound pupil at Stallings Island Middle School, but she still holds a place in many of her former elementary teachers’ hearts.

Wanda Burton, who taught Re’Ana in first grade, said she was an outspoken pupil in the classroom but always respectful and cordial to her teachers.

“She’s such a smart girl,” she said, “and she’s always been a fighter and a go-getter.”

Re’Ana’s third-grade teacher Debby Wright noted the pre-teen’s social disposition and feisty spirit.

“Her attitude is remarkable,” she said.

Soulful spirit

One thing that hasn’t dimmed throughout Re’Ana’s battle with cancer is her smile.

Her face lights up when talking about her favorite activities, such as swimming, gymnastics and drawing.

An avid reader, Re’Ana said her weekly goal at Stevens Creek was to be on the “Hall of Fame” for accelerated readers – which she often was.

She doesn’t like to dwell on the fact that she has cancer and instead looks to the future.

As Re’Ana sat in the Stevens Creek media center browsing through cards made for her by fourth-graders, she said she’s never wavered on her dream of one day becoming a gynecologist.

“I know I like working with people and helping people,” she said.

A bright smile flashed across her face when she saw one card that incorporated her favorite character, Hello Kitty.

As for her recent amputation, Re’Ana said she had two options.

“It’s either my life or my leg,” she said.

Hall finds her daughter’s positive outlook inspirational.

“She’s my biggest inspiration,” Hall said. “There have been days when I just look at her, and I just want to cry because it’s devastating – this whole situation.

“She’s been like, ‘Mom, I’m just happy to be alive.’”

For Re’Ana, her inspiration comes in the form of a 2-year-old leukemia patient she met while undergoing treatment at the hospital.

“She runs around everywhere,” Re’Ana said.

“She’s my little inspiration.”

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