Just one day after he watched his now 16-month-old daughter, Gabby, get baptized, Matt Brown took her to the pediatrician. "She'd been running a low-grade fever for four days so my wife, Heidi, asked me to take her in," Matt says. "We weren't overly concerned. I was just thinking, 'We'll get the good drugs here. We'll get antibiotics.'"
Matt's thinking quickly shifted when after Gabby's pediatrician noticed that in addition to her fever, Gabby had bruising and appeared pale. "Her pediatrician wanted to do some blood work," Matt says. And that, Matt tells us, is when he started to get nervous. "I know her pediatrician — she's a family friend — and she wasn't making eye contact with me," he says. "I know she knows something's wrong, and so I start to think, 'OK, what's really going on here?'"
When Gabby's blood work came back, Matt's nervousness only increased. "Her counts were off the charts," he says. "Her pediatrician started to tear up at that point and I was like, 'Just tell me. Tell me what's wrong.' And she said, 'Something's wrong with Gabby's blood, Matt. She might have a blood disease.' She didn't say leukemia at that point, but that's the first place your mind goes."
The first place Gabby's pediatrician's mind went, however, was to Mayo Clinic. "She called Mayo right away and we drove straight to Saint Marys," where "after a lot of testing," Matt tells us the fears of Gabby's pediatrician were confirmed. "She was diagnosed with a form of AML [acute myelogenous leukemia] that's rare in children," Matt tells us. "It's usually only found in men 65 and older."
After the initial shock wore off, Matt tells us he and Heidi were filled with questions. Questions that Gabby's care team was eager to answer. "Mayo's entire system is set up to deal with diagnoses like this and to help us as parents deal with it by serving as advocates for our daughter, who doesn't know what's going on or what's happening to her," Matt says.
Under the guidance of Mayo pediatric hematologist Vilmarie Rodriguez, M.D., Gabby is embarking on an aggressive treatment plan highlighted by an equally aggressive form of chemotherapy meant to eradicate every last cancer cell from her body.
Matt tells us that out of all the uncertainties, one thing has been clear from the start: Gabby has a whole community, and Mayo Clinic care team, behind her. "We own and operate a restaurant and our staff, our friends, our family, everybody, anything they can do, they're doing it," Matt says.
Like the friend who put Gabby's face and her family's "Gabby's got this" cancer-fighting slogan on a billboard in Rochester. And another friend who composed a song in her honor. And the scores of doctors, nurses, social workers and "everyone else" at Mayo Clinic who Matt says have adopted Gabby as their own. "It's been so unbelievably incredible to see how much everyone cares about her," Matt tells us. "We couldn't do any of this without them."
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