t began innocently, as a persistent cough. Doctors in New York, where then-3-year-old Michael Fiacco lived, labeled it the flu, perhaps pneumonia.
But when the toddler's parents, Michael and Diana, brought him to an emergency room in December 2001, an X-ray revealed a huge tumor in his right lung that was pushing his heart and trachea against his left lung. His doctors had never seen anything like it. "His left lung was so compressed, all he had was a small pocket of oxygen," recalls Diana. A biopsy diagnosed pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB), a cancer affecting fewer than 50 children worldwide. There was no treatment protocol, and Michael was given less than a 40 percent chance of survival.
One round of chemotherapy shrunk the tumor, the second round didn't. Michael couldn't eat or talk, was skeletally thin and contracted a dangerous virus. His doctors assessed that more chemo would be futile; instead, surgery, during which Michael would likely lose his right lung, would be the next step.
But the Fiaccos' friends and family had other ideas. According to Diana, "Everyone's research led to Dr. Holcombe Grier," associate chief of Pediatric Oncology for Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Care, who had successfully treated a boy with PPB. Even Michael's Manhattan oncologist agreed, "There's no place like Boston."
The family headed north and heard hope from Grier. More chemo would shrink the tumor and surgery would remove it without having to sacrifice Michael's right lung. "This was the first time we heard confidence from doctors," recalls Diana. "We thought, 'We're here to stay'."
Under the care of Grier and Robert Shamberger, MD, chief of Surgery, Michael had more chemo. As promised, Shamberger's colleague Craig Lillehei, MD, senior associate in Surgery, and his team removed the entire tumor and saved three-quarters of the boy's right lung.
Two years later, Michael is now 6, a kindergartener and talented baseball player who'll join a Little League team next spring. "Making it this far is huge," says his mom. "The kids who relapse usually do so within 18 months."
The Fiaccos, including daughter Ariana, 8, now live in Newburyport, Mass., where Diana grew up. "Boston is the center of the cancer treatment world," she says. "We know Children's is the best place to be."
Get inspired by Michael Fiacco and other remarkable patients during the 22nd Annual WBZ-Children's Hospital Telethon. This year's Telethon is presented by WBZ-TV (CBS4) and WBZ NewsRadio 1030, and is scheduled to air on Tuesday, Dec.14, from 8 to 11 p.m. on UPN 38. It will feature inspiring patient stories, WBZ-TV and WBZ NewsRadio personalities, entertainment and an on-air American Airlines ticket auction.
Also this year, for every Legal Sea Foods gift certificate purchased through December 25, the restaurant will make a donation to Children's. Callers who give $100 or more during the Legal Sea Foods check presentation will receive a $25 restaurant gift certificate.
Over the past 22 years, the WBZ-Children's Hospital Fund has generated millions of dollars in charitable donations for Children's. Donations continue to provide funds that help the hospital advance pediatric care, research, training and community service. To support the WBZ-Children's Hospital Fund, make a gift online or pledge over the phone during the Telethon, involve your company or community organization, or participate in ongoing promotions sponsored by local businesses and organizations that support the fund. Every gift makes a difference in the life of a child.