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Hospital workers like household for Marietta newcomers dealing with leukemia analysis – jj

Hospital workers like household for Marietta newcomers dealing with leukemia analysis


It began as pain in Claire Grasso’s legs when she was 3 years old.

Within weeks, ‘it’ became her family’s nightmare and a 26-month roller-coaster of medicine and emotions.

‘It’ was leukemia.

“We moved here from New Jersey in May 2016,” recalled Claire’s mother, Kimberly Grasso of Marietta. “My husband Rob had transferred to a new job. We were getting used to the area, but we didn’t really know anyone.”

Grasso enrolled Claire in a local preschool that August, hoping her daughter could make new friends in the neighborhood.

“Claire had been there a week when she started sniffling and coughing. I thought, ‘Well, kids are in school and they get sick,’” Grasso said. Then, about a month after starting school, Claire started complaining that her legs hurt. Grasso wondered if they were growing pains, noting her daughter hadn’t experienced any kind of accident or injury.

“One day, we were playing and she dropped a toy. She said, ‘Mommy, can you get my toy?’ I said, ‘You can pick it up.’ That’s when Claire said she couldn’t, because it hurt to bend down.”

Throughout the rest of that day, Grasso randomly dropped a few items around the house and observed her daughter. “I said, ‘Claire, could you pick that up for me?’ She couldn’t. If I dropped it near the coffee table she would lean heavily on it to get down and then get back up, but otherwise she wasn’t able to do it.”

Claire’s pain baffled her dad, too.

“She couldn’t really point to where it hurt,” Rob Grasso said. “Sometimes it was her knee, sometimes her leg or her hip or her ankle. Still, I thought it was odd.”

A ‘troubling rash’Kimberly Grasso shared their observations with Claire’s pediatrician, who thought Claire’s discomfort could be caused by constipation. The doctor was more concerned with a faint rash on Claire’s face and ordered bloodwork.

The next day, the doctor called and urged Kimberly Grasso to take her daughter to the hospital immediately to rule out a bowel obstruction.

“I took her to Children’s Heathcare of Atlanta, and her doctor had called ahead to let the staff know. It wasn’t normal, because they started an IV on her right away,” Kimberly Grasso said.

Rob Grasso met his wife and daughter in the emergency room, where they waited together and kept Claire still. That’s when Kimberly Grasso noticed the rash had spread to Claire’s legs and arms.

Then, a physician told the family about the bloodwork’s results.

“She said there were ‘blasts in her blood,’ and they were fairly certain of a leukemia diagnosis,” Kimberly Grasso recalled. “I remember saying, ‘No, we are here for an X-ray for bowel obstruction.’ The doctor said, ‘I understand and I’m sorry — but this is bigger than that.’”

Kimberly Grasso had learned a few weeks earlier that she was pregnant with her second child, Chase.

“I was at about nine weeks. As Claire sat on my lap in the hospital room, I remember thinking, ‘Am I blessed with this pregnancy because I’m going to lose my child?”

Rob Grasso tried to stay calm.

“I asked every question I could think of except the obvious one. ‘Will she be OK?’ I was deathly afraid of what the answer would be. I asked the doctors what we were supposed to do, just go home now? The doctor tried to keep from laughing. He said, ‘No, she’ll be here for an undetermined amount of time and starting treatment as soon as we determine what kind of leukemia it is.’”

Hospital staff becomes familyTreatment wound up being 26 months of daily, then weekly and then monthly infusions — with multiple hospital admissions.

Kimberly Grasso vividly recalled Claire’s first of many nights at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Scottish Rite for blood transfusions and chemotherapy treatments.

“It was 12:18 a.m. I watched her nurse hang bags of blood for Claire’s first transfusion. There were no words to describe what I was feeling. I had nobody to talk to, we had no family here and we didn’t know our neighbors. Rob didn’t know his new coworkers very well because he traveled a lot. We felt very isolated, except for the Realtor who sold us our house. We were shell-shocked and in denial. It was like we were outside the situation looking in,” she said.

“Over 26 months of Claire’s treatments, the staff at the cancer center became the people we knew best,” Rob Grasso said. “They were like family. They were almost all we had. They’re there because it’s their calling in life. They knew how to manage the parents — when to hug us and when to hold our hands. … They were very human, not clinical. They got us through this. The kindness that we were shown still brings us to tears,” he said.

Claire rang the bell at the Aflac center in December 2018 to celebrate her final chemo treatment. She will continue to see cancer specialists for two years before transferring to a survivor clinic that helps patients with the after-effects of the disease and treatments.

Claire and her parents will be featured on the WSB Care-a-thon July 25 with an on-air interview.

“If there’s anything we can do for the center, we do it,” Rob Grasso said, noting his daughter has been face of the Care-a-thon for Atlanta-area Kroger stores. He speaks at charity events for the hospital and the family donates to the cause as well.

“It’s all about the treatments and the children,” he said. “Claire’s oncologist told us, ‘We’re good at this. It’s what we do, and she‘s going to be just fine. You guys — it’s going to take years off your lives. But Claire will be fine.”

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