Until October 2014, Lainee Martrain was a healthy and carefree 10-year-old. A 6th grade student at Southside Junior High in Denham Springs, Lainee enjoyed playing volleyball, competing in pageants, watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, and braiding hair. A sore throat and fever prompted a routine visit to the doctor where Lainee was diagnosed with strep throat. She started feeling worse on October 17. The next day, her condition declined with alarming speed. By the time her mom rushed her to the ER at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital, Lainee’s fever had spiked to 105 degrees, and she was having difficulty breathing. Doctors admitted her to the pediatric intensive care unit and put her on a ventilator.
Her strep throat, it turned out, was just one of a tangle of infections called HLH that were ravaging her immune system. Now, she was in the fight of her life. The root of it all, her family would learn, was acute lymphoblastic leukemia. An estimated 3,000 children nationwide are diagnosed each year with this common form of leukemia. Many of them travel to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis for state-of-the-art treatment. More than 90 percent make a full recovery. Lainee, however, was too sick to be transported.
The good news for her family was her doctor had no intention—or need—to move her. That’s because she could receive life-saving treatment at the Baton Rouge St. Jude Affiliate Clinic at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital. It is one of seven affiliate clinics in the U.S. where the medical staff, facilities and treatment meet St. Jude’s stringent requirements.
“I'm pretty sure I cried happy tears when they told me Lainee would receive all her treatments in Baton Rouge,” said her mom, Jody.
Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital has collaborated with St. Jude in Memphis for more than 15 years to treat thousands of children diagnosed with various forms of cancer and blood-borne diseases. “How blessed are we to have this amazing support group?” Jody said. “I was so relieved to know that I'd be at home through this process with my friends and family. I can't imagine a day without these wonderful people.”
Lainee’s oncologist, Catherine Boston, MD, was able to diagnose her various infections while she was in the pediatric ICU.
The leukemia was treatable, Dr. Boston explained, and it posed far less an immediate threat to Lainee than the HLH. The treatment, however, would be arduous. Lainee would require several months of intensive chemotherapy and hospitalization. Then, she would receive smaller chemotherapy doses weekly for the next two years or more.
Lainee endured the worst and began to grow stronger after those first few grueling weeks. Her weekly chemotherapy treatments continue today in Baton Rouge, with Dr. Boston and her colleagues staying in close and constant contact with St. Jude staff in Memphis.
Fighting the disease in Baton Rouge enabled Lainee’s strong network of family and friends to rally around her. They continue to visit her regularly and participate in fundraisers in her honor. A Facebook page they started for her, “Praying for Lainee Martrain,” has more than 5,000 likes. “Having them come see her brightened her spirit and helped her healing,” said Dr. Boston.
Lainee said she feels blessed to have such supportive family and friends. She feels just as strongly about the staff of the St. Jude clinic and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital. “They almost feel like my family now,” she said.
During the past 15 years, the ties have grown stronger between St. Jude in Memphis and Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital.
A wide range of specialists and subspecialists are in place here with the ability to provide all essential treatments. Patients here undergo identical chemotherapy regimens and participate in the same clinical trials offered in Memphis.
Still, Lainee was the first Baton Rougearea leukemia patient to receive all of her treatment in Baton Rouge.
“Having a child diagnosed with cancer is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Jody said. “While it still feels like I'm living in that nightmare, I have to say that Lainee's doctors and nurses [at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and the clinic] have made this experience better than one could imagine. It truly is an amazing place.” Inevitably, another child in our area will get sick and be diagnosed with leukemia or another childhood cancer. Help, though, will be much closer than they might think. Lainee Martrain has some knowing words of comfort for that child.
“I know it's hard to not be scared at first, so I think they should get their parents and friends together and pray before the appointments when they're scared,” Lainee said. “When I was still really, really sick, we prayed all the time before my clinic visits and it helped.”
“I would also tell that child,” Lainee said, “that it's going to be okay.”