Last October, the lives of eighth-grader Hailee Hutton and her family were turned upside down. Within a few days of what seemed like a mild viral illness coming on, Hailee was suddenly not able to run in PE class and developed enormous bruises.
Her mom, Hollie, and her sister, Taylor, took Hailee to the emergency room. At first, because of the bruising, the staff separated Hailee from her family, fearing abuse. But as soon as lab work came back, things changed.
“When the ER doctor came to talk to us, she didn’t really look us in the eye, didn’t give us a diagnosis, but said that the test results were abnormal and that she needed to get a different doctor,” Hollie Hutton said.
Dr. Robert Irwin, a blood specialist at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, came to talk about the blood tests.
“He sat down with us and explained the test results. He said that Hailee might have aplastic anemia or leukemia but that they would need to do other tests to figure that out. He told Hailee, ‘You are a very sick girl,’” Hutton said.
Three days later, when bone marrow biopsy results came in, the medical staff had the diagnosis: aplastic anemia. Hailee’s bone marrow was not making blood cells. Platelets help with clotting and a low count leads to bleeding and easy bruising. Red cells carry oxygen and a low count causes shortness of breath and fatigue. White cells fight infection and a low count increases risk of infection.
Hailee underwent a combination of immunotherapy and chemotherapy. The treatment was fairly successful, according to Hutton, but Hailee had significant side effects like bone pain, joint swelling and water retention, and she needed multiple transfusions. She returned to Key Peninsula Middle School in February and graduated in June. In the fall, Hailee will be a student Peninsula High, where her sister will be a senior.
Facing the medical issues has been a challenge. Hutton said, “It has not been easy. But we are a really close family and this makes us closer.”
Hutton had to quit her job as assistant director of a youth center at Joint Base Lewis McChord and finances are tight. Hailee’s father, Nick, works as a mechanical foreman for a company that does road and bridge construction. Although the company has been understanding, he does not have paid time off.
It has been difficult for Nick Hutton to find time to be with Hailee during hospitalizations and appointments. Her parents have worked hard to keep Taylor’s life as normal as possible, making sure she was able to play on the PHS basketball team.
The family was told from the beginning that the bone marrow transplant was inevitable once the medical treatment was no longer effective.
“It’s weird to go for almost a year with the treatment, only to know that it will fail,” Hutton said. “They always talked about transplant as when and not if. We are in that weird spot of waiting for the treatment to fail and trying to keep Hailee in as good a shape as possible for when she needs a transplant.”
Hailee gets regular blood tests and when her counts fall, she will have final testing to find a bone marrow donor. Her sister was not a match, so she will have an unrelated donor. The transplant will take place in Seattle and requires moving there for several months to be close to medical care even after Hailee gets out of the hospital. The cost of housing will be covered, but the added expenses of food and transportation will not.
The Huttons have no other family in the area, but friends have rallied around. Matt Voss, best friend of Hailee’s father, and his wife, Michelle, organized a golf tournament to raise money; KP Cares has organized fundraisers and the family has established a GoFundMe account (www.gofundme.com/help-hailee-beat-aplastic-anemia).
Hutton said, “Anyone who has met Hailee knows the kindness in her soul. She is such a caring and loving individual who has been a joy to raise. She is always worried about other people and how they are doing. Helping her to stop worrying about everyone else and focus on herself and getting better is our main priority. The love and support of everyone so far has blown our entire family away and with your support, she will beat this.”