Drs: Fighting Cancer & Deportation + Graft-Versus-Host Disease


The Drs: South African Baby Fighting Leukemia

Drs: Fighting Cancer & Deportation + Graft-Versus-Host Disease

The Doctors talked to the parents of a child who has cancer and Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD), but is facing deportation. (f9photos / Shutterstock.com)

A family from South Africa shared their story with The Doctors. The mother and father got married in 2006 and then got pregnant five months later. When their son was 5 months old, Lydia, the mom, took him for a routine checkup and the doctor felt his stomach and said his liver and spleen felt a little enlarged. Tests were done and they were told their son had leukemia. Lydia was in the hospital for a year with her son, who was suffering from an aggressive form of the leukemia. He was put on the strongest chemotherapy they could find, and the next day he went into kidney and renal failure.


After six months of chemotherapy, his only hope was a bone marrow transplant. He received the transplant nine days before his first birthday, and during the days that followed he was severely ill. Six months later, he developed graft-versus-host disease or GVHD, which is a life-threatening condition where the new bone marrow fights against the body. It affected his skin and eyes, as well as his kidneys and liver. They couldn’t seem to get the disease under control, so they turned to the United States.

The Drs: Fighting Deportation & Cancer

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles told them to bring him in. When they first got to the U.S. their son couldn’t walk, talk, or even move his hands. After six weeks, he stood up for the first time, and his GVHD has gotten under control.

They originally came to America on a visa with a medical clause allowing their son to receive treatment, but in a couple of weeks, that visa will expire. The family now doesn’t want the three years they’ve spent here to be for nothing.


The Drs: Graft-Versus-Host Disease

The Doctors welcome Lydia and Ryan, the parents of the little boy named Reef, as well as board certified oncologist Dr Lawrence Piro. Ryan said they’re blessed to have each other as well as an amazing boy who never gives up. No matter what happens to him, Reef is always smiling and dancing.

Dr Piro explained that the cancer Reef had is a cancer of his immune system, so in order to cure that, they had to wipe out his immune system with very high doses of chemotherapy, and if they did nothing more he would have died because he had no defenses. They transferred in someone else’s immune system, and that then attacked the kidney as if it were a foreign invader, doing the same thing to almost all the tissue.

The Drs: Child Battling Skin Cancer & Disease

Dr Travis Stork then shared that three weeks ago, Reef ran into a huge setback in his recovery. Ryan explained that Reef needed a skin biopsy because of the lumps on his head and was diagnosed with a squamous cell cancer. It’s controllable, but because of his compromised immune system, they’re not allowed to cut it off, because it won’t heal. Instead, they’re using a chemotherapy cream on it.

Lydia is praying that they can stay here and continue his treatment until he can become a normal kid.

The Drs: Family Facing Deportation

Dr Stork asked Dr Piro if he thought Reef would be well enough to go home. Dr Piro said the real problem is how do you take Reef out of an environment that is “so tranformative” and send him back to where he was the first bone marrow transplant at his age in South Africa, which means they don’t have a lot of experience for what to look for.

Lydia said they have two weeks left, and through tears said she can’t put her son on a plane back to South Africa. The Doctors welcomed attorney Areva Martin, who said it’s not like someone is going to force them on a plane in two weeks, but when they came to the country, they had a time period for how long they could stay, and they have to honor that time period. She said they have to make sure they take steps in order to get an extension on that time period. She said they should be consulting with competent immigration council.

She said she would love to be able to call their immigration attorney to make sure everything is on track for them to stay in the U.S.

The Drs: Help Cancerous Child

The Doctors said they would do whatever they could to make sure Reef gets the care he needs. Reef joined the show with his grandfather via Polycom, saying hello to his mom and dad. So cute! There’s a campaign to raise money for Reef’s cause called Rock It For Reef.


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