The future is looking brighter for a 3-year-old Gainesville boy who has struggled for two years with a rare blood disease.
David Charlton must undergo an intense series of two chemotherapy treatments at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston, but his Texas doctor says it "should kick it out completely," said his mother, Heather Charlton.
David, Heather and her husband, Dustin, returned Wednesday from visiting Dr. Kenneth McClain at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, desperate for answers in their son's battles with Langerhans cell histiocytosis.
"I'm glad we have a plan and somebody wants to help us," Heather said. "At the same time, I guess I'm kind
of numb. I don't really know how to feel because I'm ready (for the treatments to start), but I'm scared to death.
"He's only 3 and I don't know what this next year is going to be like for our family. I know it's going to be rough. He's been sick for two years and I've dealt with that - this is a whole different level of sick."
The family's ordeal began while in Hawaii, where Dustin was serving in the Navy.
David was 8 months old when his parents noticed a strange rash had formed on his hip. He also was having high fevers and some diarrhea.
Heather took the infant to the doctor, who prescribed a cream for a suspected insect bite. The doctor also said David was probably teething.
After a couple of weeks, the rash spread. This time, the doctor speculated the cause might be a bacterial infection.
A month later, the rash was even bigger.
Doctors eventually confirmed that David has Langerhans cell histiocytosis, which affects one in 200,000 children born each year in the United States.
According to the Histiocytosis Association of America's website, histiocytosis is caused by an excess of white blood cells called histiocytes. The histiocytes cluster together and can attack the skin, bones, lung, liver, spleen, gums, ears, eyes and possibly the central nervous system.
In some cases, the disease can be life-threatening.
The family moved back to Gainesville, where the young couple had met and started dating while at Gainesville High.
The Charltons, who also have a 2-year-old daughter, Taylor-Grace, eventually scheduled an appointment for this past Monday with the Texas doctor.
Strapped for cash, the couple was able to raise money from donations and a fundraiser. "I thank everybody for that because it helped us get out there," Heather said.
After running some tests, the doctor said he believed the disease was affecting David's gastrointestinal tract.
"He called Egleston and got (David's) oncologist on board and (the oncologist) called me and said they were going to put in his (chemotherapy) port next week, and then we'll start him on two different chemos," Heather said.
"After he's been doing them for two months, we're going to re-evaluate and if he's doing good with the chemo, then we'll continue until the six-month marker."
Another evaluation will be done at that time to determine whether the treatment needs to continue for another six months.
Possible side effects include hair loss, nausea and high fevers.
The oncologist "expects he will tolerate it well," Heather said, "but he doesn't want to make any promises because every child is different.
"He could do really well and you would never know he was on chemo or he could be really sick and we could be spending a lot of time at Egleston."
All in all, Heather said she is ready for what lies ahead.
"I want him to get better and I want him around. And I want to see him get married and have kids."