Derick's Story: Blessed Beyond Measure
If you look up the word “feisty” in the dictionary, you might see a photo of Derick Valadez, who overcame a set of impossible odds before the age of 1.
Derick was born with six heart defects, including coarctation of the aorta, which is when the tube that carries oxygen-rich blood to the rest of the body is narrower than usual, and aortic valve stenosis, which reduces blood flow from the heart to the aorta to the rest of the body. These two conditions were life-threatening and required major surgeries when Derick was just weeks old.
After spending a combined total of 140 days in both the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at CHRISTUS Children's, Florencia, Derick’s mother, thought the worst was behind them.
“He had already been through so much and had done so well. I was ready to get Derick home and establish some normalcy in our routines,” said Florencia.
But life had other plans for the Valadez family. Before he was ready to leave CHRISTUS Children's, he had surgery to place a G-tube, which would help him receive the calories he needed to grow. Unfortunately, when Dr. Ian Mitchell, their pediatric surgeon was performing the procedure, he noticed two abnormal spots on Derick’s liver.
“We once again found ourselves in a whirlwind. Right after we received the biopsy results, Dr. Nadia Cheek, a pediatric oncologist, took Derick’s blood and scheduled him for a MRI and CT scans of his chest, abdomen and pelvic area. The results showed that he had a mass in his liver which turned out to be a hepatoblastoma. He was only 8 months old,” said Florencia.
Instead of radiation and chemotherapy, Dr. Cheek and her team at CHRISTUS Children's decided surgery was the best option. His tumor was small enough, and they were fairly confident they could remove it all through surgery. But then, a few days later, Derick had another setback: he tested positive for COVID-19.
“Because he tested positive for COVID and because he’s a heart baby, it was risky for him to undergo any type of surgery,” said Florencia. “Although Derick exhibited only minor symptoms – fever and congestion – they still didn’t fell it was safe to do surgery on him.”
Once Derick recovered from COVID, Dr. Cheek decided to do another scan to see if anything had changed. The scan revealed that surgery was no longer a safe option for Derick because his tumor had grown. So, his oncology team acted quickly to insert a port to administer chemotherapy.
After two rounds of chemo, Derick’s tumor shrank, putting him in a better position to have surgery. So, in March 2022, Derick had liver resection surgery, where parts of his liver and gallbladder were removed.
After his surgery, Derick would need another two rounds of chemo. Then, in May 2022, before he turned 1 year old, he had another scan. The images revealed the treatment had worked – Derick was cancer free!
In June, CHRISTUS Children's held a bell-ringing ceremony for Derick and his family. Members of his oncology team, as well as his cardiac team, showed up to celebrate the end of his cancer treatment.
“He is truly a miracle baby in so many ways. Before his first birthday, Derick survived two heart surgeries and cancer, which truly amazes me,” said Florencia.
Typically, a cancer patient like Derick returns to the doctor every three months to get their line flushed out with heparin, but because Derick is a heart baby, physicians at CHRISTUS Children's want to see him monthly. If all goes well, he will have his port removed in the fall.
Through it all, Derick has been a happy baby full of life, despite his medical battles. Florencia is grateful to the team at CHRISTUS Children's for saving her son not once – but twice.
Florencia and her family are immensely thankful for all the doctors and nurses who cared for Derick throughout his cancer journey, especially Dr. Cheek, and all of his amazing nurses. They also have tremendous gratitude for Dr. Mitchell, who performed Derick’s surgeries, including his G-tube procedure, where they first identified the suspicious-looking spot on his liver.
“Without CHRISTUS Children's proactive approach, Derick’s cancer could have easily spread to other parts of his body, and we would have been looking at an entirely different situation,” said Florencia. “Without a doubt, we are blessed beyond measure.”
To learn more about the Pediatric Cancer and Blood disorders Center at CHRISTUS Children's, please visit: https://www.christushealth.org/get-care/services-specialties/cancer-care/pediatric.