Beating the odds has become a habit for Kiley Smith.
The Yerington girl was diagnosed in December 2002 at age 6 with acute myelogenous leukemia, placed on life support and given last rites of the Episcopal Church.
But Kiley has a strength and maturity even many adults don't have.
"She's real strong, she's powerful and she's stubborn," said her mother, Sally Smith. "If she wasn't, she wouldn't be here."
Those are the qualities a child needs if they're going to overcome AML, which, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, develops from acquired (not inherited) genetic damage to the DNA of developing cells in the bone marrow. Although the exact cause is unknown, it has been linked to exposure to benzene.
The society estimates nearly 12,000 cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S, and about 48 percent of those patients survive five years or more. For children, the survival rate is a bit higher, at 52 percent. That is, if there are no complications.
Kiley had complications.
"Nobody even thought she would survive ICU," her mother said.
But both the girl and the mom refused to give up and Kiley recovered enough to receive a bone marrow transplant - from her older sister, Jordan - in February 2003.
After the operation, Kiley contracted "graft versus host" disease, which causes rejection of the donated bone marrow and leaves the patient vulnerable to infection. She was placed in isolation in July 2003, unable to go to school or play with other children, and she had to wear a mask whenever she left the house. "Boy, she hated that," her mother said.
In January, Smith said, she experienced respiratory failure and had to undergo a treatment to replace the oxygen in her blood. "Most children don't survive it," Smith said.
But Kiley isn't most children.
After intensive treatment at Oakland Children's Hospital, Kiley is in remission, out of isolation and starting school on Monday. A month before her 10th birthday, she's feeling good and looking forward to "riding bikes, playing in the sprinkler, riding scooters and helping my mom cook dinner," she said. She hopes someday to become an oncology nurse.
Kiley's health problems were also an ordeal for Smith, though she downplayed her troubles.
"When things like that happen, you can go two ways. You can go down or you can get stronger," she said.
Smith, now a single mother, has six children besides Kiley: daughters Jordan, 11, Kellen, 6, Danica, 8, and sons Niall, 17, Brennan, 23 and Galen, 21, a U.S. Marine who has completed one tour of duty in Iraq and is due to return next year.
The former military wife has lived in Yerington for six years and Kiley's illness has made it impossible for her to work. She said the town has been very supportive during Kiley's illness.
"I couldn't ask for a better place to live," she said. "The emotional support and the physical support they've given me. Without this town, I wouldn't have made it."
-- Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111 ext. 351.
You can help
To donate to cancer research, visit these Web sites:
• National Children's Cancer Society: nationalchildrenscancersociety.com/
• American Cancer Society: www.cancer.org/
• Curesearch: www.curesearch.org/