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Cancer latest fight he's won: Boy, 8, had heart defect at birth and recently was declared cancer-free

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - 10:36 am

Like many 8-year-olds, Caden Bowles loves cars. But unlike other children, he had a heart transplant at 6 weeks and for the past year has battled cancer.

Caden was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The left side of his heart was unable to send blood to the body.

His mother, Shannon Bowles, and father, Lance, chose the University of Michigan Health System for the surgery because of its top-notch pediatric transplant and cardio surgical unit. They also were from Hillsboro, Mich., and had relatives there who could help out.

“Normally they do a three-stage surgery to correct the defect,” said Shannon Bowles.

But his mother says in Caden's case after one surgery he experienced complications. His heart surgeon, Dr. Richard G. Ohye, director of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery and the Pediatric Cardiovascular Transplant Program at the University of Michigan Health System, agreed.

“Caden experienced three unexplained death episodes,” Ohye said.

His heart stopped beating three times. Instead of proceeding with two more surgeries to repair the 2-week-old's heart, he was put on the heart transplant list. By the time Caden was 6 weeks old he had a new heart.

That was eight years ago, and thanks to the new heart he has been able to lead a normal life. He does have to take an immune system-suppressing drug, Tacrolimus, to make sure his body will not reject his heart.

His mother is home schooling Caden because with a suppressed immune system he is more susceptible to germs. Limiting his daily exposure to other children has helped keep him healthy.

He has a younger sister, Ava, 5, and two brothers, Brigham, 3, and Drake, 1. His mother works part time as a dietitian at Lutheran Hospital, and his father is an accountant for a steel company in Auburn.

Things were going fine until February, when doctors discovered Caden had cancer.

His mother says it can be one of the side effects from taking immunosuppressant drugs, called post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease, PTLD.

“Normally your body produces cancer cells that your immune system takes care of, but Caden is taking drugs to suppress his immune system, so his body couldn't handle it,” Shannon Bowles said.

Ohye says in many cases the dosage level of the immunosuppressant drug can be lowered and it will solve the problem, but Caden was already on a low dose, so that wasn't an option.

Shannon Bowles said Caden had 10 rounds of chemo therapy; six were mild, the last four a much heavier dose. The lighter rounds of chemo had not stopped the cancer. He has been declared cancer free since his last screening. Bowles said her son never seemed bothered by the chemo, and he agreed.

“It was worse before they started the chemo,” Caden said.

His mother says swollen lymph nodes had shut down his bowels, and at first they were treating it like anyone suffering from constipation. One round of chemo reduced the swelling.

To fight the cancer they returned to the University of Michigan Health System so they could be close to the transplant unit during his cancer treatment.

Ohye stopped by Caden's hospital room one day to say hello. Noticing Caden's love of cars, Ohye promised to give him a ride in his 1997 Ferrari Maranello when Caden was released from the hospital.

Much to Ohye's surprise, Caden was released the next day.

“I had to go home and wash my car in the driveway that night to get it ready,” Ohye said with a laugh.

Caden got his ride.

“We only went 20 miles an hour,” Caden said.

Shannon Bowles said it was just from one parking lot to another. But Ohye has invited him back to Michigan to visit a Ferrari dealership, where Caden will get a tour and be able to sit in some of the cars. The visit could happen by the end of December if Caden can kick his current cold. He is at Lutheran Hospital in isolation riding it out.

“I am just looking forward to playing and being at home,” Caden said.