September 8, 2012

6-year-old battles Wilms tumor and brutal side effects

PLATTSBURGH — Six-year-old Alec Coughlin was diagnosed with stage 4 Wilms tumor, a kind of kidney cancer, on April 5.

His mother, Karla Lyon, had noticed a swelling on the left side of his abdomen March 31.

A pediatrician tested him for mononucleosis because it was thought an enlarged spleen was the problem.

After a few days waiting for those test results, Lyon took her son to the CVPH Medical Center emergency room, where she demanded there be a computed tomography scan of Alec’s abdomen. At first, she was told the radiation from the scan would be too detrimental for him because of his small size, but a pediatrician later approved the procedure. 

Karla waited in the ER for hours for the results.

Just before midnight, a doctor came to the ER from his home to deliver the bad news — a tumor and an enlarged kidney with all symptoms pointing to Wilms tumor.


The following day, Alec underwent a six-hour surgical procedure at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington to remove his left kidney and the football-sized tumor.

This has been followed by a series of chemo treatments, lung radiation therapy and countless lab tests.

The frequent medical appointments require Karla to drive Alec to Burlington at least once a week.

The cancer Alec has is rare. Only 500 cases are diagnosed yearly in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. 

And tests found that because of Alec’s genetic makeup, the cancer was going to be harder to treat and more likely to reoccur following remission.

But from his contagious smile and delightful personality, one would never know how much he has been forced to endure because of his illness.

“Not a day goes by that he doesn’t have a smile on his face,” Karla said.

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