A 3-year-old Sioux Falls girl's leukemia is in remission, but her recovery hasn't been without setbacks, including a stroke. This little twin has fought doubly-hard to get well.
Lizzie and Leah Nelson are fraternal twins who look alike, but don't act alike.
"Day and night. One's bossy and the other one's passive," Lizzie's dad Stacy Nelson said.
Lizzie is the passive twin. But a quiet nature hides a resilience beyond her years.
"Kids, they're so different from adults. They're like, ehhh, I don't feel that good, but I think I'm going to get up anyway. She doesn't complain very much about not feeling good," Lizzie's mom Linda Nelson said.
Just over a year ago, Lizzie was looking pale and feeling tired all the time. And there were other symptoms that didn't look right.
"She had small bruises, little bruises all over her back," Linda Nelson said.
So the Nelsons brought Lizzie to the doctor to be checked out.
"And so he did the blood test and it came back he said it's leukemia and you should head up to the castle, they're expecting you," Linda Nelson said.
The castle, of course, is the castle at Sanford Children's Hospital where Lizzie responded well to treatment right away.
"Our goal with the first month of treatment is to do our best to wipe out the leukemia and that's essentially what we saw happen in Lizzie's case," Sanford Pediatric Oncologist Dr. Kaye Wagner said.
Lizzie had the most common form of childhood luekemia, one that many kids can overcome. But it was still a difficult diagnosis for the Nelsons.
"It's a little scary. At that point, you don't know what they treatments are going to be like. You don't know what the cure rate is, the success rate," Linda Nelson said.
The Nelsons were encouraged by Lizzie's rapid recovery. But then a troubling setback.
"I heard her stumble and I turned and looked at her, her hand was shaking and I thought oh, boy, is that a side effect," Linda Nelson said.
It turns out, Lizzie had suffered a stroke, likely from the chemo she was receiving for her leukemia.
"The chemotherapy that she gets can potentially cause blood clots and so most likely, she did get a blood clot that resulted in her stroke," Wagner said.
"I think the stroke was the hard thing. That was hard because we kind of felt like we were out of the ditch and we got that," Stacy Nelson said.
But Lizzie was determined to overcome the stroke in addition to her leukemia.
"We did occupational therapy, we did physical therapy for most of the summer into September-October, but she came back 100-percent, so it's amazing," Linda Nelson said.
The stroke delayed some of Lizzie's lukemia treatments.
"She still has some intravenous chemo that she's going to have to do, and she's doing the spinal taps so there's a lot of that left to do, but all the heavy lifting is behind us," Stacy Nelson said.
And that heavy lifting is a big load off the minds of the Nelsons who say Lizzie's medical challenges have provided them with a new perspective as a family.
"I think it gives us an opportunity to refocus. It gave us a chance to adjust our lifestyle," Stacy Nelson said.
Lizzie's health has improved so much, the Nelsons are planning a camping trip this summer. First lukemia then a stroke: trouble may come in two's, but this little twin has bounced back each time.
"She's tough. She IS tough," Linda Nelson said.
Sanford Health says the chemo that likely caused Lizzie's stroke was an important treatment for her leukemia. The Nelsons say they have no regrets about Lizzie receiving the chemo and credit Sanford Children's for helping her throughout the entire process.
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