Last fall, Ayden Paredes was a typical 4-year-old: always ready to play ball in the park, and excited to start preschool. For most of this year, though, he has been battling leukemia. Now the Glen Cove boy is in need of a blood stem cell/bone marrow transplant to save his life.
Ayden was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia on Feb. 7, and since then has been receiving intensive chemotherapy treatments and blood transfusions at Cohen’s Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park. He has spent more time in the hospital than at home over the past few months, according to his father, Mark Paredes, but in spite of the blood cancer, he has been able to keep his spirits up.
“Kids are very resilient,” Mark said. “If you didn’t know he has leukemia, you’d never guess. He’s still himself, a prankster, full of energy, though he does get tired easily.”
Late last year, Mark said, he and his wife, Barel, began noticing bruises on Ayden that wouldn’t heal. Twice he mentioned having a headache — an odd thing for a 4-year-old to say, his father thought — but the red flag was when he began saying he needed to catch his breath.
Doctors at first suspected Covid-19, because Ayden had a fever and was lethargic. Then they thought it might be an infection, and put him on antibiotics. Then, while celebrating his mother’s birthday on Feb. 7, Ayden fell asleep during dinner.
“We knew something was wrong, and went straight to Cohen’s Children Hospital …,” Mark said. “That’s when we got the diagnosis.”
The Paredes family — which also includes Ayden’s 13-year-old sister, Ariana — moved to Glen Cove from Bayside four years ago. Ariana will begin her freshman year at Glen Cove High School this fall. Ayden started pre-K at Tiegerman School in January, but his year ended almost as soon as it began: He attended only four days of school before getting sick.
“He was so excited, but his school experience was short-lived,” his father said. “We’re hoping everything works out so he can go this September.”
Still, Mark said, after all the treatments, the chemo isn’t as effective as it should be. When treating leukemia, he explained, the first step is chemotherapy, and the second is a bone marrow transplant, which the family is actively seeking a match for. The New York Blood Center has teamed up with the Be the Match bone marrow registry for a series of drives, one of which is planned for Aug. 9, from 2 to 8 p.m., in the parish hall of St. Patrick’s Church in Glen Cove.
There is a third course of action as well, which the family plans to take, called CAR T cell infusion. Ayden’s white blood cells were sent to a lab and engineered to focus on cancer, a process that takes three to five weeks. He will go to the hospital on Aug. 10, and undergo four days of chemo to clean out his body, followed by two days of rest before the cell infusion, which, like dialysis, targets cancer cells, his father said. He’ll have to remain in the hospital for a week for observation.
This treatment option was approved for pediatrics about five years ago, and while there have been success stories, there’s no guarantee.
“As a parent, I can’t sit down and hope that this works,” Mark said. “I need something in my back pocket. I need to know that I’ve exhausted every recourse available, which is why we’re focusing on finding a bone marrow match.”
Ayden is mostly of Hispanic descent — Colombian, Puerto Rican and Guatemalan — which makes finding a match difficult, according to the New York Blood Center. “Statistically, it’s harder for minorities to find a match,” said his father, who is about half Colombian. “And from what I understand, a bone marrow transplant has to be done for him to be cured.”
Mark, a detective with the New York City Police Department, said that the department has held a series of blood drives throughout the city over the past few weeks, with more planned this month around New York and New Jersey, with the goal of finding a matching donor. People can donate blood and have their cheeks swabbed to see if they’re a match. To make an appointment, go to the New York Blood Center website, www.nybc.org/donate, or call (800) 933-BLOOD.
The Paredeses are encouraging people to register, not only for their son, but also for others facing a similar situation. “If it’s not a match for Ayden,” Mark said, “hopefully someone else will be the lucky recipient of bone marrow.”
While he was hopeful that the treatment would work, he said he was also nervous. “I’m on pins and needles,” Mark said. “Ayden’s had a rough time. He’s been in the hospital more than he’s been home this year — he hasn’t caught a break. I’m hoping this is his break. We can’t lose hope.”