In September 2014, when Yeshaya Nitekman was just three months old, his mother found blood in his diaper. She contacted a doctor, not thinking it was anything serious. Ruchoma and Avi Nitekman were not prepared for the news they received. There was a tumor growing on their son’s kidney. Within days, their baby was heading into the operating room at Memorial University Medical Center to have his right kidney removed. When the frightening ordeal was over, Ruchoma and Avi returned home with their infant, thinking the worst was behind them.
A week later, the Nitekmans received the full pathology report on their son’s tumor. They learned that Yeshaya had a rhabdoid tumor, a very rare type of cancer. Ruchoma and Avi were determined to find the best treatment for their child. The first thing they did was travel from Savannah to Atlanta to meet with a kidney tumor specialist. He told them that they could return home, because the high-level care they needed was just 10 minutes from their house at the Dwaine & Cynthia Willett Children’s Hospital of Savannah. Being able to get treatment at home, close to their other two children and surrounded by their friends and community, would make a tremendous difference for the family.
“Not one time did we ever feel we weren’t in the right place,” said Ruchoma. “Every person who cared for Yeshaya was unbelievable. He became everybody’s baby. We felt like we had a family at the hospital that really cared about us and our son.”
Yeshaya began six months of chemotherapy followed by three weeks of radiation therapy. His treatment required numerous blood and platelet transfusions and took a hard toll on his little body. But Ruchoma said he handled it “like a rock star.”
There were also plenty of rock stars at the Willett Children’s Hospital. Ruchoma recalls their pediatric hematologist/oncologist, Andrew Pendleton, M.D., coming to the hospital at 4 a.m. when there was a problem with Yeshaya’s chemotherapy port. Pediatric hematologists/oncologists Martin Johnston, M.D., and John Whittle, M.D., also provided tremendous care and support. She remembers calling nurse navigator Amanda Crosby, R.N., from an aisle in a drugstore to ask what kind of children’s pain reliever she could give Yeshaya. Crosby had given them her number and told them they could call any time. Crosby was with them through the whole process, providing information and answering all of their questions. They were impressed by the nursing teams in the hospital and at the chemotherapy and radiation clinics who knew exactly how to keep Yeshaya distracted and calm during his treatments. They said all of Yeshaya’s caregivers took the time to explain things to them, answer their questions, and help them through the dark days. They’re also grateful to the nonprofit group CURE Childhood Cancer. Mandy Garola from CURE would bring Ruchoma a kosher lunch every week while she was at treatment with Yeshaya. It was a challenging time for the Nitekmans, but there were miracles along the way that helped the family stay strong.
“We kept looking forward. We knew that as a baby, Yeshaya would reflect what he saw on our faces. So we stayed positive and kept going. We couldn’t have gotten through it without the help, love, and support of our family and friends,” said Ruchoma.
Today, Yeshaya is a bubbly, busy, 2-year-old with wispy blonde hair and a mischievous grin. He continues to receive regular scans at the Willett Children’s Hospital and is doing well. As he gets older, he’ll have the scans less frequently. Like a typical toddler, he shows no signs of slowing down. His family is thankful every day that he was able to receive the expert care he needed right here at home.