When 9-year-old Matthew Mazzarella woke up one morning with a rash, his pediatrician thought it as a viral infection, but ran some blood tests just to be safe. They came back normal, but over the next six months, Matthew and his mother, Rose, knew something wasn't right. "He lost 10 pounds and wasn't his normal happy-go-lucky self," she says. "He became very needy and didn't want to eat." So she set up another appointment, this time with a gastroenterologist at a local Boston hospital to rule out acid reflux.
Just before the appointment, Matthew asked his mother, "Am I going to get the C-word? That word that people die from?" Rose knew he meant cancer and explained that it wasn't likely. But blood work done by the gastroenterologist proved that Matthew did, in fact, have leukemia. He was immediately admitted to the same hospital, but one month after his diagnosis, his parents moved Matthew to Children's Hospital Boston. "It was like going to the Ritz," she jokes.
For the next three months, 6 North became the Mazzarella's new home. Matthew's 11-year-old sister and father visited every night and weekend. "We ate together, played together, watched the Red Sox together and were as upbeat as possible," says Rose. "If 6 North wasn't designed the way it is and if it weren't for the nurses, doctors, Child Life Specialists, chaplains and psychologists who helped along the way, we never would have been able keep such a positive attitude and things would have been a lot different."
Matthew sailed through two rounds of chemotherapy and went into remission. But he still needed a bone marrow transplant. Luckily, his sister was a match, so in early November, he moved across the hall to 6 West for his transplant. After the transplant he remained in the hospital for another seven weeks.
Matthew never complained his entire time in the hospital and tried to have as much fun as possible. "The nurses used to fight over who got to take care of him," Rose says. "We always had fun things to do, great art supplies in the playroom, the nurses were fun and every kid gets a laptop in their room!"
He's is now back home in Lynnfield. He can only leave the house for his weekly blood work at the Jimmy Fund Clinic until the fall to keep him from catching any illnesses. He stays busy playing Legos, blocks and on his new laptop that was donated to him by a family friend. Matthew has one piece of advice for new patients on 6 North. "You will have lots of fun and don't worry every kid loses their hair, but it grows back and every Friday you will get to eat pizza."
"We've been so lucky," says Rose. "I applaud the nurses and doctors who took our child's life on such a personal level, they get emotionally invested beyond the next round of chemo or medicine, and they are special people that are like family to us."