In May 2008, at the age of 4, Mariah Leskovac was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare type of childhood cancer in which a malignant tumor develops from nerve tissue.
For the next 5 years, Mariah and her family made many trips to and from Akron Children’s Hospital for doctor visits and hospitalizations that were necessary to fight her cancer.
“Most children have either stage 3 or stage 4 neuroblastoma, which invades bone marrow in addition to the tumors,” said Sue Neitz, a nurse practitioner and stem cell transplant program coordinator at Akron Children’s. “It is a very deadly disease.”
Mariah’s many treatments included a stem cell transplant that harvested her own stem cells, 7 cycles of chemotherapy and surgery to remove her tumor.
Following the surgery, Neitz infused Mariah’s frozen stem cells into her bone marrow so they could repopulate her body and strengthen her immune system. She had to spend 30 days in isolation following the transplant.
Afterwards, she underwent local radiation to the primary site of her cancer, her left adrenal gland. Roughly 3 months after the radiation was complete, Mariah was rescanned and they found the cancer was still present in her body.
This led to the next and final stage of the treatment, which sent Mariah and her family to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York so she could receive 6 cycles of immuno-therapy.
“Mariah was rescanned about 3 months after her radiation therapy but still had the disease,” Neitz said. “At the time, Akron Children’s did not offer the next step in treatment – immuno-therapy – so she was sent to Sloan Kettering for the therapy and has been cancer-free ever since.”
Now, 5 years later, 10-year-old Mariah is cancer-free and still remembers her experiences at both Akron Children’s and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Those experiences are what made her want to give back.
So she and her sister Destiny, 13, created Mariah’s Destiny, a fundraiser rooted in their church.
“The girls just came to the decision that they wanted to help out people,” said Andrew Leskovac, Mariah and Destiny’s father. “Both of the girls had gotten a lot from people – people they didn’t even know – and that was the biggest part. People that didn’t even know my kids were there to help them out, and that’s basically what we wanted to replicate.”
The girls went to businesses for donations, held a silent auction at their church, and accepted new toys and games to give to children at the hospital.
Mariah found that toys and games helped get her through her journey to being cancer-free. They were an escape from the reality of the cancer and helped brighten her days in the hospital.
Additionally, Mariah’s Destiny received checks that the girls’ father used to purchase food and gas cards for families who may not be able to pay for the costs of travel and other expenses during treatment.
“We know how expensive it can be to have a kid in the hospital,” Andrew said. “We got a lot of gas cards that helped us out. Mariah got blankets, toys and all kinds of stuff. It was overwhelming at times, but we had a lot of help.”
In only 6 short months, the girls have raised more than $2,000 worth of food and gas cards for families in need and have donated a variety of toys and games to Akron Children’s Hospital.
“It is amazing for them to be able to give back,” Neitz said, “especially to do so consistently. It really shows their dedication.”
To learn more about Mariah’s Destiny, visit https://www.facebook.com/mariah.destiny.12www.facebook.com/mariah.destiny.12.