ROCHESTER HILLS, MI -- This Christmas, the Byrd family of Rochester Hills will spend the day in their pajamas. They will play games - lots of games. They will pray. They will enjoy every moment of their day of togetherness.
Because once upon a time this day didn't seem possible.
It was Christmastime six years ago when doctors diagnosed the Byrds' oldest son, Blase, with a type of cancer they said was incurable. Blase was 4 years old with only a slim chance he would live to see Christmas through the eyes of a 10-year-old.
Since then, the Byrds' story is one of beating the odds. Of prayer. And, ultimately, of nothing less than a miracle.
"I know what it feels like to look everywhere and feel as if there is no hope," Tami Byrd told Patch.
"If one person reads our story and it gives them hope — if we inspire one person to hang on, then we've done something special."
A family's 'worst nightmare'
It all started with Blase's ankle. The 4-year-old told his mom one day that it hurt; the pain continued for two days. Tami, a physical therapist, knew her son hadn't been injured, and she started to worry. She took him to a doctor to have his blood drawn. Her fear at the time: juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
"That was really the worst thing I could imagine," she remembered thinking.
Instead, her oldest son was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. After initial rounds of treatment, the diagnosis became more specific: he had a rare form of the disease; there were only 40 confirmed cases like his in the world. Right away, Blase was placed on a high-risk, three-and-a-half-year chemotherapy treatment plan. He was given a 20 to 30 percent chance that he would live five years.
Doctors painted a hopeless picture, Tami said.
Except for this: Tami was pregnant.
A bone marrow transplant could save Blase; already Tami and her husband, Matt, were found not to be matches with their son. Blase's younger brother, Bryce, was not a match, either. But the baby that Tami was carrying: there was a 1-in-4 chance that baby could be a good enough match.
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, which is the spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made. In Blase's case, the disease was progressing rapidly, creating immature blood cells.
And so the Byrd family was living in the hospital. Blase was puffy and swollen; achy and ornery. He was bald; he was distended. He had to be carried up and down stairs.
"Our lives revolved around our son's medical schedule," Tami said. His little body was bombarded with chemotherapy for several days at a time; then, he would come home and recover for a few days before going back to the hospital again.
"It was the worst nightmare you could imagine," Tami said.
And then came the miracle.
From one brother to another
It turns out, Blase's baby brother, Brady, born in March, was a perfect bone marrow match.
The Byrds banked their baby's umbilical cord blood through ViaCord, a cord blood banking and research center. Through a program called Sibling Connection, which helps parents who have a child in need of a transplant, they were able to preserve the cells from Brady's umbilical cord to use for a transplant to Blase.
Blase underwent the transplant in June. During the procedure, doctors replaced Blase's leukemic bone marrow with his baby brother's leukemia-free marrow. In other words, all of the blood cells in Blase's body were destroyed, and he received an infusion of new stem cells.
And then Blase, his family and the doctors waited.
"We were very, very desperate," Tami said. "It was overwhelming and awful. Our faith really got us through. We were on our knees praying all the time.
"We really felt like this baby had been the answer to our prayers."
Faith pays off
The transplant was a success.
But still, doctors said Blase would never be cured. "They never use that word - cure - with the cancer Blase had," Tami said.
In that first year with cancer, Blase had 11 spinal taps, 11 biopsies, three surgeries, 91 doses of chemotherapy and spent 237 days in the hospital.
It would take him more than a year to get his strength back. And then, he had to catch up with school work. "It took him awhile to be comfortable in his own skin," Tami said.
But then, this past summer, those same doctors who told the Byrds their son would never be cured told them the unthinkable.
"They said he had zero side effects," Tami said. "They said that looking at him now, you would never know he had cancer. They said he would never need to come back.
"And they told us he was completely cured."
Matt Byrd said he knew it all along.
"We felt like it was divine intervention," Matt said. "It was neat to see the head of the oncology unit tell us something he never, ever thought he would tell us."
In a video they made of their ordeal, Tami and Matt said they felt God sent them the answer (Brady) before they even knew they had a problem (cancer).
Today, Blase is a healthy and happy 10-year-old who plays with his two younger brothers and, now, a younger sister, Lucy, too.
"When the doctors give you no hope and you're crying day and night and praying to God to help you, to have it come full circle and have them tell you you're cured, it feels like your faith paid off," Tami said.
"We showed the medical profession that anything is possible."
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