Tori Lee Glezos, the first patient to receive a bone-marrow transplant in Orange County, died Monday, 33 days after the radical treatment that doctors hoped would save her life.
The 9-year-old Huntington Beach girl's death "was not related to the bone marrow" transplant, but a result of earlier radiation treatments for a potent cancer that had spread to her lungs, said Laura Johnson, a spokeswoman for Childrens Hospital of Orange County.
"Preliminary studies show that (her cancer) was in remission and that the bone marrow had engrafted successfully," Johnson said.
"She died comfortably and was not in pain," Johnson said. Tori's doctors and family "saw that her lungs were getting weaker and weaker, so I don't think it came as a surprise." Her parents, Mike and Lynne Glezos, were with Tori when she died.
Tori suffered from a highly malignant muscle cancer--called rhabdomyosarcoma--that spread to her lungs, her leg, her spine and elsewhere in her body.
The disease was so widespread that conventional chemotherapy and radiation treatments had become ineffective. Tori's chances of survival were less than 5%, Johnson said.
So her parents--at Tori's strong urging--opted for an aggressive and relatively new form of treatment. Doctors administered extremely high doses of chemotherapy drugs in the hope they would finally destroy the cancer.
That treatment would have been lethal, because it also destroyed the tissue that produces blood cells. But Dr. Mitchell Cairo, director of cancer research at Childrens Hospital, had already harvested and frozen some of Tori's bone marrow to reintroduce to her body.
Susceptible to Infection
After the drug treatment, Cairo thawed the frozen marrow and returned it to Tori intravenously. Over the next few weeks, he said, the marrow would migrate to her bones and take root.
Until her marrow was re-established, though, Tori would be susceptible to life-threatening infections. Indeed, she developed a bacterial infection and pneumonia 10 days after her transplant.
Transfusions and antibiotics carried Tori through that illness, but her condition worsened again over the weekend, her father said.
The extent of Tori's lung cancer--and the earlier radiation treatments to halt it--"made her lungs weak," Johnson said. "They just weren't strong enough that she could keep breathing."
Cairo was reported to be upset by Tori's death and declined to speak publicly Monday. "He has to deal with losing patients all the time," but Tori was a special case, Johnson said.
"It's very positive that his bone marrow transplant seemingly was successful," she said, "but it was unfortunate, very unfortunate, that something else took her."
Second Patient Well
The county's second bone-marrow transplant patient, a 2 1/2-year-old Santa Ana girl, is "doing extremely well," Johnson said. Her transplant apparently was successful and her cancer seems to be in remission, 25 days after treatment.
A third bone marrow transplant, on a 15-year-old Santa Ana boy, was performed five days ago in the same isolation room that had been Tori's home before she was moved to an intensive care unit.
The third patient is doing well so far, Johnson said. But because he received his brother's bone marrow, rather than his own as in the two previous transplants, the teen-ager faces a greater risk of rejection.
Tori's family will remember her "as a kid who wanted to help everyone," Mike Glezos said Monday. Tori was eager to make friends of the children on the oncology ward and to explain the bone-marrow transplant to those who would undergo the same procedure.
"Tori knew, really, what could happen," he said. "Like we told everybody before, she knew it was her only chance for a cure. She wanted to get the transplant done."
A children's Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Saints Simon and Jude Church in Huntington Beach, where a funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday. The family asks that donations in memory of Tori be made to support cancer research at Childrens Hospital of Orange County.