In March 2008, four-year-old Nikolas started running unexplained fevers, vomiting, and suffering leg pain so severe he had difficulty walking. By April, Nikolas was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a form of childhood cancer that starts in the nervous system. Treatment began immediately at a hospital in Des Moines, and his physician referred the Ball family to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for its expertise in stem cell transplants and pediatric radiation treatments. After meeting with the medical team, his parents, Robin and Jimmy, “decided that UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital was the best place for our child.”
The Ball family was understandably scared. When the team at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital explained the process of stem cell transplants and radiation, they also taped it for Nikolas and his parents “because they knew we were overwhelmed and in a daze.” The staff treated Nikolas and his family “like we were the only ones there, and that our situation was special.”
At the beginning, Nikolas had only about a 20 percent chance of survival because the cancer had spread to his bones and bone marrow. But the pint-sized fighter made the best of every day, even riding his tricycle to radiation treatments.
Nikolas is a remarkable child who never gave up. After five rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, two major surgeries, and radiation, he entered remission. Riding the elevator back to his room after his final surgery, Nikolas even reached up from his hospital gurney and wanted to push the elevator button, just like any other four-year-old.
After his surgery, Nikolas had another milestone starting kindergarten. According to his mom, “He just loves school! He brings home pictures of things he has done that day to share. It’s amazing because there was a time when we didn’t think he’d get this far.”
“Remarkable” is how Robin describes the physicians and staff at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. “They are very caring and knowledgeable and strive to continue to find cures. They treated us with respect and compassion at all times.”