From her room at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, 6-year-old Paige Stines observes the bustling city below. Doctors in their white coats and nurses in scrubs filter in and out of the restaurants and coffee shops while buses and cars zoom past. The few trees that line the street have lost almost all of their leaves as Paige watches the seasons change from her purple room on the 3rd floor oncology unit.
In July, Paige was diagnosed with stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and has been receiving treatment at CHOP. On Oct. 10, the Hamilton resident was readmitted to the hospital, and her mother, Jennifer Stines, has been by her side every day. Jennifer is holding onto hope Paige will be home for her favorite holiday, Christmas.
Paige is receiving life-saving treatments including platelet transfusions made possible by blood donors. The Blood Council of New Jersey will be hosting two blood drives in Paige’s honor in Hamilton, on Dec. 2 and Jan. 17.
Everything started the morning of July 3. Jennifer, a nurse at Capital Health, was working at the Hopewell hospital when her daughter was rushed to the emergency room.
Up until that morning, Paige had always been a happy and healthy child. She played soccer and danced at Talk of the Town dance studio. She was looking forward to starting cheerleading in the fall. The summer had just begun and she and her sister Gianna, 8, loved to play outside with the other kids in the Ravenscroft neighborhood.
“She’s always been a carefree spirit,” Jennifer said, “She never worried about anything.”
Jennifer’s mother, Patty Rusinovich was watching Paige the night before. Paige, then 5-years old, spent the evening watching the fireworks display at nearby Veterans Park and playing outside with her friends. Everything seemed fine, until the next morning. Paige’s body was swollen, and she was having trouble breathing.
“At first I thought it was an allergic reaction, maybe from a mosquito bite,” Patty said. At the ER, she was immediately treated with Benedryl and steriods. An X-ray of her chest revealed something far worse.
Jennifer said the X-ray found a large mass, the size of a softball, surrounded by her vital organs. An ambulance rushed Paige from Capital Health to St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia.
“They knew at that point it was some form of cancer,” Jennifer explained, but all efforts were being made just to stabilize Paige.
On July 8, she was transferred to CHOP. There, the mass in her chest, bone marrow and spinal fluids were biopsied, and Paige received rounds of chemotherapy. On the 12th, she was diagnosed with stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.
Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma is a type of cancer that originates in the lymphatic system, a vital part of the body’s immune system. Lymphoblastic lymphoma can develop in T-cells or B-cells, and is an aggressive, or fast moving, lymphoma. According to CHOP, lymphoblastic lymphoma accounts for about 30 percent of NHL in children.
Although NHL is serious and life-threatening, it is a treatable disease, and the survival rate for children is high. But aggressive chemotherapy treatments and an already imperilled immune system puts Paige at risk of infections her body can no longer fight against.
“It’s hard because when you’re a nurse, you know things that a regular parent wouldn’t know.” Jennifer said.
Paige will need two and a half years of chemotherapy treatments. Jennifer knew Paige would need a lot of care and the medical bills would soon start piling up, but mostly, Jennifer knew she had to be at Paige’s side through this, advocating for her and keeping on top of her care team.
Jennifer made the decision to move back in with her parents and leave her beloved home at Ravenscroft. She went on family medical leave from Capital Health and is currently on donated time off from fellow employees.
“It was a really big decision for us to leave there,” Jennifer said. “It was really hard on the girls. They had so many friends in the community, but I told Paige, ‘Mommy’s got to be here with you.”
Paige was also unable to start the school year, where she attends Robinson Elementary with Gianna, which was difficult for her. Each night, she still packed her lunch, and everyday a teacher came to her home for two hours of private lessons.
“Paige loves school,” Jennifer said. “She definitely misses her school friends.”
Jennifer was engaged to Brian Brokaw, a security guard at Capital Health, and they were planning a big wedding in New Hope for the following year. With Jennifer not working, Paige’s health insurance would soon run out, so they decided to move the wedding up.
On the morning of Oct. 10, Jennifer and Brian were wed by Mayor Kelly Yaede and had a celebratory lunch with family and close friends.
That evening, Paige spiked a fever and was rushed back to CHOP. Paige had a bacterial infection and mold infection. The doctors found a lesion on her arm and had to remove a 3 inch by 4 inch section of her forearm.
On Oct. 31, Paige underwent skin graft surgery in which surgeons took tissue from her leg to repair the skin lost to infection on her forearm.
“It was Halloween, so she was just devastated,” Jennifer said. After the surgery, Paige woke up and asked her mom, “When can I get up and go trick or treating?”
“You never want to think your child’s built for this, but if anyone is, it’s Paige,” Jennifer said.
Paige, like many girls her age, loves everything “girly” and sparkly, her mother said. Before chemotherapy, she had long, golden-blond hair. One of the side effects of chemo is hair loss.
“She shocked us all,” Jennifer said. “She shaved her head and all the time she says she doesn’t even want her hair to come back. It doesn’t stop her from being girly.”
When the doctors put a cast on her arm, she couldn’t wait for it to dry so she could decorate it with stickers. When family visits, she insists on painting their nails. Trevor, a stuffed toy monkey she received as a baby, is always by her side.
Paige’s IV cart is decorated with arts and crafts projects she’s made at CHOP. Hanging among the four to five bags of IV solutions are lanterns and dream catchers, and she pushes the cart with her through the halls of the oncology unit to visit the friends she’s made.
“When you’re there on that floor, you just feel a sense of comfort,” Jennifer said. “You are surrounded with people who are going through something similar. She has friends that look like her.”
Paige hasn’t been outside since she was admitted on Oct. 10. In mid-November, the prospect of Paige being released before Thanksgiving was unlikely.
It was a hard week for Jennifer. Her 30th birthday was on Nov. 11, and she says she always tries to make a big deal of birthdays in her family, but with her 6-year-old daughter in the hospital, it’s difficult to celebrate. Driving home from the hospital, she saw the Christmas lights at Shady Brook Farm and was overwhelmed with sadness.
“It just brings tears to your eyes,” Jennifer said. “It’s just those little things you take for granted.”
Every year, she takes her daughters to the Yardley farm’s sprawling drive-through holiday light display. With the signs of Christmas popping up everywhere, she prays Paige will be discharged in time to spend the holiday at home.
“Christmas is what Paige lives for,” Jennifer said. “She has been thinking about Christmas since last Christmas.”
After Paige was diagnosed, she asked her mom to show her a picture of her cancer. Jennifer showed her a picture of red blood cells on a green background. “She said, ‘my cancer looks like Christmas!”
Cancer patients like Paige all over the world count on blood donations from generous blood donors. Cancer and cancer treatments damage the patient’s blood and require transfusions of vital blood components including red blood cells, plasma and platlets.
“There is no substitue for blood,” said Loriann Burris-Reinhardt, account manager at Community Blood Council of New Jersey in Ewing. Every three seconds, someone needs blood, and approximately 32,000 pints of blood are used every day in the United States.
The Community Blood Council of New Jersey will be hosting two blood drives in honor of Paige. The Dec. 2 blood drive will take place 3 to 8 p.m. at the White Horse Volunteer Fire Company, 19 Locust Ave. To sign up, visit tinyurl.com/teampaige. The Jan. 17 drive will take place from 3 to 8 p.m. at Robinson Elementary School, 495 Gropp Ave. To sign up, visit tinyurl.com/gopaige. All donors must have valid ID. For restrictions and more information, visit GiveBloodNJ.org.
Each blood donation, Burris-Reinhardt explained, can be used to treat three people, and the Blood Council distributes 90 percent of the donations to Mercer County hospitals, meaning donors are directly donating life-saving blood to people in their own community.
“It’s an ongoing need, especially during the holiday season,” she said. During the holidays and summer months, she explained, more people are traveling and there are more accidents that require blood transfusions.
Burris-Reinhardt contacted Jennifer after a friend posted Paige’s Go Fund Me fundraising website to Facebook.
“Everyone from this township is here with us through this fight,” Jennifer said. “The power of this community is essential and I just want thank the people of this township and let them know that we cherish everything that they do.”
While Jennifer thanks her friends and neighbors for their support through this difficult time, Patty praises her daughter for her strength and grace.
“Jennifer is an amazing, loving, caring mom,” Patty said. “They are both very strong.”
To donate directly to Paige and her family, visit the Go Fund Me page.