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Keegan and Kolton’s Battle With Leukemia

This October, I had the privilege of meeting two very special boys in our Cambodia Medical program.  We met Keegan and Kolton this June when both boys were very sick.  They were quickly diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the blood cells, which was particularly affecting their eyes.

Sixteen-year-old Keegan was very close to losing his sight.  His eyes were swollen and ulcerated so badly that he couldn’t close them, and he was in incredible pain.

Thankfully, Keegan ended up at Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh, a few hours from his hometown, in the care of the wonderful Dr. Ratha.  Before she knew where the funding for Keegan’s care would come from, Dr. Ratha started Keegan on immediate chemotherapy and steroid treatment.  Dr. Ratha reassured us that despite how terrible his eyes looked, Keegan had a good prognosis and could even regain some of his sight.  Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were honored to help fund Keegan’s fight against cancer.

Soon after we started helping Keegan, Dr. Ratha alerted us to Kolton, a three-year-old boy with the same form of cancer as Keegan. Kolton’s eyes weren’t damaged as severely as Keegan’s, but he was suffering from an infection he contracted from a failed attempt to treat his eye by a local doctor.


Dr. Ratha immediately started Kolton on chemotherapy, paying for it out of her own pocket because she knew he couldn’t wait. Kolton and his older sibling live with their father and grandmother, but their father does not have a steady job and struggles to provide enough food for his children.

We were all amazed to see how quickly the boys’ eyes improved once they started treatment under Dr. Ratha (seen above with Kolton).  Two boys that we feared didn’t have a chance for a good prognosis are making amazing progress as they fight against leukemia.

When we visited Calmette Hospital in October, Dr. Ratha was the first to meet us.  She took time out of her busy schedule to take us to the cancer treatment room where little Kolton was lying on a cot.  The room was small, hot and overcrowded with adult and child cancer patients.  You can imagine the smells, sounds and hopeless faces in such a place.  No three-year-old belongs in a place like this, yet Kolton has grown quite used to it.  He comes in and out of the hospital, usually staying for several days at a time, to receive his chemotherapy and aspiration treatments.  His grandmother stays with him and somehow manages to sleep on the same cot as her little grandson.

Kolton shared the same hopeless expression as his roommates.  His cot was just inside the entry to the room, which would normally be used as a walkway.  Lethargic from not eating or drinking, Kolton looked at us strange light-skinned visitors as we smiled back at him.  He didn’t even lift his head.  Dr. Ratha told us that Kolton had a mouth infection, a common side-effect of the chemotherapy he was receiving, and so he was particularly uncomfortable.

I was thankful to have remembered to grab a little stuffed bear and pulled it out of my backpack, knelt down and held it in front of Kolton’s face.  Although the language barrier put miles between us, the teddy bear brought us together and Kolton showed a slight spark of interest.  He didn’t reach for the bear, but he watched it as I made it dance slowly around him and then placed it in his hand.  Perhaps he’s never had such a toy, or perhaps he was held back by how sick he felt, but he was a stark contrast to the excited and enthusiastic children we visited in our Believe in Me schools just days prior.

Eventually, Kolton’s grandmother coaxed him out of bed to visit the back patio. Kolton walked laboriously outside, still expressionless, but clinging to his little bear.  His grandmother stood next to him, holding his IV bag above her head.  I offered to hold it for her.  Really I had nothing else to offer. I was a sweaty lady who left her husband, three children, and comfortable suburban home to help these children somehow, but in doing so, I felt so helpless. I am thankful I got to be Kolton’s IV pole for a few minutes.

Handsome Keegan has made great progress. He is usually accompanied by his older sister when he receives chemotherapy, and she stays and tends to him.  She has been very faithful to make sure Keegan takes his medication on time when they are at home.

After visiting with Kolton and Keegan, Dr. Ratha gave us a tour of the beautiful new cancer building on the Calmette Hospital campus, due to open in November. The new hospital includes state-of-the-art equipment and plenty of single-occupant rooms. I am thankful to know that Keegan and his sister, and Kolton and his grandmother will now have quiet private rooms when they stay at the hospital for their next chemotherapy treatment.

Dr. Ratha is a lovely woman who received her medical training in France and is very advanced compared to most doctors in her country. She told us that most people in Cambodia, including medical professionals, believe that children cannot have cancer.  They believe that cancer is something only adults can have. When Keegan and Kolton’s family first took them to see a local doctor due to eye problems, cancer was not suspected and the boys were sent home with some medication. This, of course, only gave the cancer more time to progress before they finally arrived in the hands of Dr. Ratha who could start their life-saving treatment. Dr. Ratha is working hard to educate more medical professionals so that more lives can be saved in Cambodia.

Both Keegan and Kolton are about a quarter of their way through their two-year cancer treatment plan, and their prognosis remains good. We are looking into partnering with another charitable organization to arrange for Keegan to have a cornea transplant, which hopefully will improve his eyesight.

Cancer care is very expensive, even with the discount the hospital is giving these two boys from impoverished families.  Please consider sponsoring their medical care and helping them fight against cancer.

~Kelly Eckert is the Cambodia Medical Services Manager for Love Without Boundaries

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