Family’s courage fights cancer

  • Kristi O’Harran / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, November 5, 2001 9:00pm
  • Local News

MLT couple has hope as son battles a rare leukemia

Kristi O’Harran

Herald Columnist

Following an electrocardiogram that checked his heart, Sebastian Marat had leftover strips of tape attached to his thin body. The 3-year-old said not to touch the fabric. He knew that removing adhesive tape can hurt. His mother, Kyra Marat, recently put a bandage on her broken fingernail.

"Oh, Mommy," Sebastian told her. "Owie."

Sebastian has suffered more owies than anyone should bear. He is fighting myeloid precursor leukemia, a cancer so rare there are no documented cases with children. This form of leukemia attacks the body’s natural killer cells, the white blood cells that protect the human immune system from cancers and viruses.

Sebastian’s physician, Dr. Philip Herzog, pediatric oncologist and staff physician at Group Health Cooperative in Bellevue, said the prognosis has been almost universally fatal in a handful of adults.

Chris Marat, Sebastian’s father, said regardless of the odds, he does not think negative thoughts.

"The word die doesn’t come to mind," Chris said. "That’s not an option."

Two 28-year-old, stiff-upper-lip parents greeted me at their Mountlake Terrace apartment. Kyra is one of my daughter’s best friends. Last spring, after Sebastian got lumps on his neck, a fever and a cold, Dr. Herzog found the awful cancer. A decision should be made this week about proceeding with a stem cell transplant.

You can help

An account for Sebastian Marat has been estab-lished at Seattle Telco Credit Union, 800 Stewart St., Seattle, WA 98101.

Sebastian is at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle where he underwent tests Monday morning for chest pains. If they proceed with the stem cell, his mother is a perfect match.

"With a family donor, we have made great gains," Dr. Herzog said. "In most situations, the mother is half a match, which isn’t good enough."

Sebastian spent his summer undergoing cancer treatments at the Group Health hospital. Dr. Herzog understood why Kyra said medical professionals in Bellevue were like family. Though Sebastian usually screams when Dr. Herzog enters his hospital room, the 3-year-old does let the doctor do his exams.

"Hopefully, he gets well," Dr. Herzog said, "and gives me a hug when he sees me."

Through this ordeal, Chris, kitchen manager at Hooter’s in Bellevue, and his wife, who is on the Lynnwood Hooter’s wait staff, have tried to work. One or the other was always with Sebastian. Fletcher, his younger brother, an inquisitive toddler, was not wonderful at the hospital.

When I visited Sebastian at Group Health in August, Fletcher had rotated to the home of a relative. Chris, who shaved his head to match Sebastian, said it’s hard to wave goodbye to Fletcher again and again.

Their old Hyundai is on its last legs but they need wheels to be with Sebastian, deliver Fletcher and take shifts at work. Their employer, Hoot Winc, a Hooters Restaurant franchiser, established an account for Sebastian and has been wonderful to the Marats. Family in Gig Harbor raised money that paid the rent until January, but the bank account is dry.

An account for Sebastian Marat has been established at Seattle Telco Credit Union, 800 Stewart St., Seattle, WA 98101. Medical bills are stacking up. Somehow, this family needs a reliable car to get back and forth to the hospital.

"We need money, but I could care less about it," Chris said. "This makes you think differently about life."

Sebastian watched Scooby-Doo on television when I visited their apartment between hospital stays. Looking like a tiny elf under a blanket on the couch, he was not about to get his picture taken.

The toddler was afraid of a new machine. Who could blame him after what he has been through? The Herald’s patient photographer showed Sebastian his grumpy face in her digital camera. Slowly, the adorable youngster decided the camera might be fun. When Chris pretended to eat Sebastian’s toes, the 3-year-old laughed like a healthy tot on a swing.

"He’s all about his Daddy," Kyra said. "Fletcher is my little cuddle."

Fletcher was at a relative’s place that day. Kyra tried to encourage Sebastian to eat. When he said "Toast," she cut it in to four little squares. He didn’t touch the bread. Chicken was his next request. As he nibbled a nugget, his attentive mother momentarily relaxed.

"I’m just glad when he eats," she said.

In front of brave parents, I shed no tears. When I got to my car, thinking about what lay ahead for the child, emotions got the better of me. How did they hold up? Where did they draw their strength? I will never understand such courage.

"The odds are stacked against us," Kyra said, "but look how far we’ve come."

I looked.

I wept.

Kristi O’Harran’s Column appears Tuesdays and Fridays. If you have an idea for her, call 425-339-3451 or e-mail oharran@heraldnet.com.

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