Carrie Kimel was playing cards with her family one weekend afternoon when she looked at her then- 3-year-old son and noticed that he was pale and had multiple unexplained bruises on his head and hand.
"He wasn't sick," Kimel remembers recalling. Nor had he been. Blood work following a fall at church just two months earlier showed that Zackary was fine and his blood count was where it should be.
However, Kimel knew something wasn't right. She remembers looking at her husband, Dave Kimel, and saying, "He looks like he has leukemia."
A visit to Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center a few days later showed that Zackary had a bone marrow deficiency. The Kimels, who also are parents to 9-year-old Zane, took Zackary to the Medical College of Georgia Children's Medical Center, where their worst fears were confirmed. Their son had a rare form of leukemia.
"I was just devastated," said Kimel. "I couldn't stop crying. I had an idea he had leukemia, but it was the worst news of our lives."
Kimel's sister was diagnosed with leukemia 17 years ago. She lived just three months after being diagnosed. It was during that time, when Kimel herself was a teen, that she learned about the devastating disease and how it can grip a family.
"You just don't want to hear (that word): cancer," said Kimel. "That's something you never want to hear. After that initial day, I realized that I had to be strong for Zackary. I couldn't break down. I had to be strong for him."
With the support of his family, Zackary has managed to get through the days and months of chemotherapy.
Today, two years after being diagnosed with pre B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, 6-year-old Zackary spends his days counting down the time to when he will no longer have to undergo chemotherapy treatments. With another 15 months of chemotherapy ahead of him, though, he still faces challenges each day.
While most youngsters his age are enrolled in school, Zackary is in a homebound program because he is susceptible to infections. He does, however, attend an after-school program three hours a week so that when he is ready for regular school, he'll be familiar with the ins and outs of how it works.
Zackary, described by his mother as a strong, sweet boy, is on steroids and sometimes takes up to 20 pills a day. He receives chemotherapy through his port once a month, and gets chemotherapy through his spine every three months.
"They wanted him in remission at seven days of chemotherapy," explains Kimel. In those first seven days, 95 percent to 98 percent of the cancer cells are killed. The additional three years of chemotherapy is to kill off the remaining cancer cells.
"When we took Zackary in, he was just days from passing away," said Kimel. "His platelets were so low."
Zackary will be one of the faces of this year's eighth annual Cares for Kids Radiothon at the MCGHealth's Children's Medical Center Thursday through Saturday. Broadcast live from the lobby of MCG's Children's Medical Center, the Radiothon will air on 104.3 WBBQ and 102.3 The Bull.
"This year, primarily, the money raised will go to support the renovation of our Outpatient Oncology and Hematology Clinic," said Julie Vaughn, coordinator of the fundraiser. "Our goal is always to raise more money than the year before, but we never announce our talk about a number."
Kimel is optimistic that last year's pledges of $144,000 will be exceeded. She added that funds from this year's Radiothon are greatly needed to renovate the outpatient clinic.
"These kids are there sometimes eight hours in the clinic," she said. "It's very small, and there are very few chairs. Families are on top of families out there. They need a lot more to make these kids comfortable."
Zackary is excited to be one of the miracle kids featured in this year's Radiothon, said his mother.
"He said he could let others know that they could fight this and make it," said Kimel. "He's such a blessing in our lives. He's so strong and loving. Our lives are not the everyday lives they were before, but you go through it all together and you make it."
It is with that hope that Kimel is optimistic the Radiothon will reach hundreds of people wanting to give during this holiday season.
"I know the economy is rough right now, but cancer doesn't care," Kimel said. "Cancer doesn't stop for the economy. Cancer doesn't stop because times are tight. MCG is saving so many lives, and we have all the faith in the world in the MCG Children's Medical Center."
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