Leukemia strikes young Sauk Rapids boy

A benefit in Royalton is planned for 4-year-old Preston Holewa

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Only 4 years old, Preston Holewa has experienced more than most of his friends. Even more than most of his parents’ friends. Since February, he has been going through treatments for leukemia. His parents, Glenn Holewa and Jacquelyn St. Aubin, have been right by his side, experiencing every needle, every dose of chemotherapy, every tear.

Four-year-old Preston Holewa, in front, was diagnosed with leukemia in February and has three years of treatments ahead of him. A benefit is being planned for him and his parents, Glenn Holewa, left, and Jacquelyn St. Aubin, at the Royalton American Legion Saturday, Nov. 17, from 4 p.m. – 11 p.m.

Glenn and Jackie knew something was wrong. She took Preston to Tyler Hospital, near where her parents lived, when one side of his face had swelled during a visit.

“The doctors told Jackie that it was only fluid backing up from a cold,” said Glenn. “When they returned to her parents’ home, the swelling worsened. She kept calling the doctors, they kept reassuring her that everything was all right.”

When Preston and his mom returned to their home in Sauk Rapids, the swelling had progressed to his neck and shoulder. It got to the point he couldn’t turn his head.

“We took Preston to the St. Cloud Hospital Sunday night, Feb. 12, where he was rushed to an exam room,” said Glenn. “The doctors determined it was cellulitis, an inflammation of the skin caused by bacteria.”

The Holewas learned later the leukemia had destroyed enough of Preston’s immune system, that the bacteria was able to take over, causing the cellulitis. His body couldn’t fight the bacteria.

The doctors at the St. Cloud Hospital took a blood sample and determined his hemoglobin was at 2.2 when around 13 is normal.

Glenn, who has lived in Little Falls, Royalton and Randall, Googled the hemoglobin count from his cell phone and the results told him it was leukemia. He did not tell Jackie this because he did not want to worry her in case it was something else.

“If it wasn’t for the cellulitis and the blood test, the doctors wouldn’t have suspected the leukemia,” said Glenn. He felt that it saved his son’s life.

Within 30 minutes of entering the St. Cloud Hospital, Jackie and Preston were in an ambulance, heading to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis. In the meantime, Glenn went home to get clothes and other personal items. He called family, friends and work, telling them it was leukemia.

“I was pretty sure at that time,” he said. While a definitive diagnosis had not been made, he had asked the medical staff their opinion on what it may be and he was told leukemia.

Glenn’s parents drove from Foley to take him to Children’s Hospital. He said that during the time he waited for them to get to his house was when he started to lose it.

“Jackie was a lot stronger through it all,” he said. “I was the wreck.”

During the drive to Minneapolis, Glenn said he didn’t talk much, but occasionally asked his mother if she couldn’t drive faster.

It was 3 a.m. when leukemia was confirmed. Preston’s parents were told about two hours later it was childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a disease where the cancer cells can go crazy and kill both white and red blood cells, eventually taking over the blood.

The good news was there is a 97 percent survival rate.

The bad news was Preston needed approximately three years of treatments.

“We expect to be done with the treatments in April 2015,” said Glenn.

At 11 a.m. the next day, Preston went into surgery to install a port in his chest. The doctors also took spinal fluid and bone marrow from his hip. Genetic testing was done, but it was determined the leukemia was not genetic.

Immediately after surgery, Preston began his chemotherapy regimen.

“A health counselor helped us learn how to give Preston his medications, plus showing him how to take them,” said Glenn. “We also gave permission for the doctors to share his treatments with research facilities for future leukemia patients.”

By Feb. 17, the family was home.

The first month was a nightmare, said Glenn. Preston was taking steroids which caused weight gain. The drugs also gave him a terrible temper. It was so bad, he had to be put on antidepressants.

For the first seven months Preston was given weekly chemotherapy injections, some directly into his spinal fluid, where the doctors said the leukemia originated.

Currently, Preston receives injections once every three months through his port and sometimes into the spine. He is also taking 6-murcaptopurine, a chemotherapy pill, each night. On Mondays and Tuesdays, Preston takes Bactrim, an antibiotic for his bacterial skin infection. Then on Wednesdays, he receives five pills, or 12.5 milligrams, of methotrexate, a drug to treat lymphoblastic leukemia.

“Today it’s going smoothly,” he said. “Prior to September, there were times he couldn’t leave the house when his numbers were low and his immune system was compromised. But the doctors say he is recovering well.”

Preston is currently on a maintenance regimen where he is given small amounts of chemotherapy. That will continue for the next 2 1/2 years, giving the leukemia less chance of returning. He no longer gets ill from the drugs and his father said he has more energy than before. It’s as if he is making up for the time he was lethargic.

Glenn said there were several signs that Preston presented that should have given them a clue he was ill.

“He began having severe night sweats. He also was bruising easily and was less active than before,” said Glenn.

Because the family’s insurance won’t cover all the medications, a benefit is being planned. It will take place at the Royalton American Legion on Highway 10, Saturday, Nov. 17, from 4 p.m. – 11 p.m. There will be both a live and silent auction, a spaghetti feed, a deejay and dancing.

The benefit, put on by Glenn’s family, will help with other incidentals such as gasoline to and from the doctor. It will also defray the cost of another operation to take place in January on Preston’s eye after an infection set in.

For more information about the benefit, contact the Holewas at (320) 247-3062.