Milan had never set foot in Sainte-Justine since the day he came into the world in 2005. He had been perfectly healthy. In fact, he was an elite athlete, a star hockey player. And then one day — March 11, 2021, to be precise — his world, and his whole family’s world, came tumbling down. From that point onward, Milan would have to face off against something more daunting than a rival hockey team.
Milan’s first appointment in the hematology/oncology unit was on March 11, 2021. Only a few days earlier, Marie-Eve had noticed a bunch of bruises all over her son’s body. Despite Milan’s insistence that he didn’t want to miss a hockey practice, they got into the car and headed straight to Sainte-Justine.
Milan was sent for blood tests. The results were cause for alarm. Not long after that, he was diagnosed with severe aplastic anemia, a disease that destroys the stem cells in the bone marrow and stops the body from making red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Milan and his parents heard the words “transfusion,” “transplant,” and “isolation,” but they didn’t register.
None of it made any sense. Our son had just been playing hockey the day before, and there we were, talking about transplants.
The game plan that would help Milan get better went something like this: whole blood and platelet transfusions, several weeks in a hospital isolation chamber, chemotherapy to wipe out his old bone marrow prior to the transplant and radiation therapy, then of course the transplant itself and the risks of rejection that came with it. He was up against a formidable opponent.
It’s hard to explain just how much of a shock it was. But in no time, dozens of perfect strangers were welcoming us with open arms, like we were part of their family. They made sure there was a safety net there for all of us to soften our fall. The teams of caregivers at Sainte-Justine were there to guide us through this ordeal, every step of the way.
Milan’s physicians at Sainte-Justine, Dr. Henrique Bittencourt, hematologist/oncologist, and Dr. Gervaise Hubert, fellow, were supportive and reassuring. Not only was he a good bone marrow transplant candidate, but Milan also qualified for a clinical trial involving a new approach that would reduce the risk of organ rejection. In fact, he would be the first patient in the world to take part in the study. The pharmaceutical-funded trial was facilitated by donors and their ongoing support for Sainte-Justine’s Research Centre and the innovative work of its teams, which has helped foster an unparalleled level of excellence over time.
Donors’ support for research at Sainte-Justine is a powerful lever and a vital source of support that empowers us to develop innovative solutions for patients like Milan.
Henrique Bittencourt, MD, PhD
Milan’s stem cell transplant went ahead on May 18. The weeks that followed were crucial. He was vulnerable and weak. The staff knew they had to let the new cells do their job, but they also kept a close eye on him, especially for the first 100 days following the procedure, when the risk of serious side effects was at its highest.
Milan reached this milestone like a champ: calm, composed and extraordinarily resilient. Dr. Bittencourt says he is a model patient, with tremendous determination. His parents express their own admiration for his ability to roll with the punches, although they weren’t surprised in the slightest.
He’s an athlete. He’s used to setting himself goals. And his game plan here was to get better. To pick up where he left off.
Kristopher Letang teams up with Milan for the 16th Winter Triathlon
Today is the day #58 got back on the ice for a practice with the Diabolos. Life is gradually getting back to normal for Milan. And his parents are more grateful than ever to the healthcare teams at Sainte-Justine. From February 14 to 20, Milan will be one of the ambassadors for the Sainte-Justine Winter Triathlon alongside his idol, Kristopher Letang.
A loyal fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins and their star defenceman, Milan turned to his hero for inspiration during his healing journey at Sainte-Justine. With a picture of Kris in his hospital room, he had everything he needed to achieve his ultimate goal: no more aplastic anemia.
Milan, this year’s patient ambassador, is an impressive young athlete and a true hockey buff. He has won battle after battle against aplastic anemia, and his fighting spirit is truly an inspiration. I have joined forces with Sainte-Justine to support kids like Milan, so they can get back to doing what they love.
Be sure to sign up for the Winter Triathlon, which every year brings together more than 300 participants who are united in their commitment to support the children and mothers-to-be of Sainte-Justine. The choice of sporting activity is yours. Simply select one of the three following challenges to complete during the week:
- 41 minutes of individual activity per day: for the 41 days Milan spent in isolation at Sainte-Justine
- 250 km to put in as a team: for the number of times Milan used to lace up and hit the ice every year before he got sick
- 100 km to put in individually: for Milan’s 100-day post-transplant milestone.