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It looked like simple colic ...

  • KATHY KUNKEL/TIMES NEWSHard as it may be to believe, months old Haley Ginder has a huge smile, despite just undergoing a chemotherapy treatment at Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia.
    KATHY KUNKEL/TIMES NEWSHard as it may be to believe, months old Haley Ginder has a huge smile, despite just undergoing a chemotherapy treatment at Children's Hospital Of Philadelphia.
Published September 06. 2013 05:00PM

Sometimes, you just know. Despite the advice from the professionals, sometimes a mother just knows when something is seriously wrong with her child. Whatever you want to call it intuition, instinct or just a mother's love, you know there is a problem.

Heather Ginder of Lehighton knows just how important it is to act on that knowledge. When her daughter, Haley, began having severe crying spells when she was just weeks old, Heather and her husband, Donald, heard all about how it was "most likely just colic." As first-time parents, the couple listened to the advice and suggestions of others, long time parents. A nighttime trip to the emergency room brought the same diagnosis colic.

The next day, Haley's pediatrician suggested it was a "stomach bug" that was making its rounds. But Haley wasn't urinating properly, so she was catheterized and had an ultrasound done of her bladder. Nothing was found. But Heather didn't buy that and persevered, knowing there was something more.

So, it was back to the emergency room the next night. Another ultrasound and still nothing detected. On the third day, when Haley was just seven weeks old, a CT scan found the problem a tumor at the base of the infant's spine. That got everyone's attention and vindicated Heather, who was beginning to feel as though everyone thought she had the first-time mom jitters.

The tumor meant an ambulance ride to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. There, the baby underwent more tests, including an MRI, a biopsy and a bone marrow aspiration. The diagnosis brought chills, tears and fear to the family. Haley had a neuroblastoma. Cancer, at seven weeks old, wasn't what the Ginder family was expecting.

Haley's first round of chemotherapy was done at CHOP during her three weeks there. As if the cancer and treatment weren't bad enough, the little girl picked up a rotavirus. Through it all, photographs from that time show a happy, smiling baby. And there were lots and lots of photos. "We didn't know how long we would have her, so we took photos all the time, tracking her weekly progress or lack of it," explains Heather.

After another three rounds of chemotherapy, which were done at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Haley's tumor had shrunk to the point where surgery was the next step in her treatment plan. So, it was back to Philadelphia, where surgeons were able to remove every speck of the cancerous tumor. "We were extremely lucky," notes Heather. "The cancer hadn't spread. They were able to get all of it. The communication between hospitals was great and the support we received from the community was tremendous."

Lehighton has that small-town atmosphere. Neighbors watch out for each other. When a child is sick with a disease like cancer, word spreads quickly. When that child is only weeks old, everyone takes notice. The Ginders were deluged with offers of help, support and comfort. Donald and Heather's extended families were always available with a shoulder to lean or cry on, to offer extra hands, rides to the hospital or anything the young couple needed. Friends and total strangers started fundraising efforts and offered prayers. "We were truly amazed at the number of people who reached out to us," Heather recalls.

Yet, being at the center of the storm was frustrating, demanding and painful. "It does take its toll," explains Heather. "There were times when I felt my nerves were just raw." Through it all, Donald remained focused on one thought. "I knew Haley was going to be okay. I just knew it." Nothing could shake that conviction and he remained steadfast through the darkest of hours.

In 2006, Haley was named honorary chairman of the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life. Her family has fielded a team, Haley's Comets, every year since then in an effort to give back to the community that supported them.

The removal of Haley's tumor brought sighs of relief, but that didn't mean the family could sit back and relax. The treatments had stalled Haley's growth progress and she weighed only ten pounds, months after her birth. But, while she wasn't thriving, she also wasn't failing either. Weekly check ups lengthened to monthly, then quarterly, then biannually. Through it all, as well as when the baby began strengthening, a smile seemed to be permanently fixed on her lips. Then, when Haley was three years old, the visits became once yearly and she didn't need to visit the oncologist again. She was selected to participate in CHOP's Survivor Program and her worried family could finally believe she was cancer-free.

With that thought in mind, and armed with the knowledge that Haley's cancer was not the familial genetic type, the Ginders turned their attention to resuming their family plans. "We wanted more children and had planned on having them closer together, but Haley's cancer changed all that," Heather reminisced. When Haley was five, she welcomed her baby brother, Peyton.

Today, Haley is a healthy, normal eight year old who will be attending third grade at Mahoning Elementary School. Her loves include her family; Lionheart, her pet rabbit; and anything and everything to do with gymnastics. She attends classes at Tumble With Denise three days a week and her heroes are Olympic champions Ally Reisman and Gabby Douglas.

Her goal is to compete in the Olympics one day. Thanks to her mother's trust in her own instincts, Haley is well on her way to fulfilling that dream.

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