When Nolan was born in February 2016, his parents, Courtney and Josh, were over the moon with their first baby. Fast forward three years later, and the Smith family would suddenly face cancer head-on.
Dr. Courtney Smith, Nolan’s mom, is a pediatrician with CHRISTUS Children’s Primary Care – Dominion Crossing, and because of her training, is very observant in any changes she sees with her children’s health. During playtime one day, Dr. Smith noticed something strange with Nolan’s left eye.
“I could see that there was something unusual in the center of his eye. I looked at it from every angle and I knew something was there that shouldn’t be,” said Dr. Smith.
Nolan’s primary care physician, Dr. Juan Ferreris, a pediatrician at CHRISTUS Children’s Primary Care – Dominion Crossing, quickly referred the family to a retina specialist. By the end of the week, Nolan was diagnosed with retinoblastoma. This form of cancer develops in the retina, which is the specialized light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and color. Specialists concluded that Nolan’s vision must have been slowly diminishing over the last three years and it was likely that he was born with a microscopic tumor that was undetectable to the naked eye.
In order to remove the tumor in its entirety, Nolan’s left eye was completely removed in July 2019, just two weeks after seeing the specialist. Immediately following the surgery, an orbital implant was placed to keep Nolan’s eye muscles in shape while he healed.
“We went from a normal Saturday afternoon, to finding out our child was going to lose his eye, just like that,” added Dr. Smith. “I’ve cared for children going through cancer throughout my career, but it is entirely different being on the other side.”
Eight weeks after surgery, Nolan was fitted for a prosthetic eye – his “super hero eye,” as he likes to call it. Nolan’s doctors were fearful the cancer had spread microscopically and suggested chemotherapy. In August of that same year, Nolan began chemotherapy at CHRISTUS Children’s – the same place his mom once served as the Chief Resident and a place where she helps heal children every single day.
“It’s a tough place to be when you’re the parent of a child going through something like cancer,” said Dr. Smith. “I had to turn my doctor brain off completely and just be Nolan’s mom. I knew he was in the best hands possible at The Children’s Hospital.”
Nolan completed his chemotherapy right in time for his fourth birthday. He celebrated by ringing the bell, marking the completion of six long months of chemo.
Although Nolan is currently cancer-free, he enjoys going to his six-month check-ups at the “big hospital with the bright colors” and seeing his friends in the Child Life Zone.
“As a physician, there are things I never noticed going on around me that make CHRISTUS Children’s as special as it is,” added Dr. Smith. “I’m so grateful for the Child Life specialists who helped Nolan feel safe and normal, the residents who took the time out of their busy days to get to know my son, the support staff who drew pictures for him to ease his nerves, and everyone who made Nolan, my husband and I, not feel so alone in our journey.”
Today, Nolan is a super five-year-old who loves reading, hanging out with his little brother, Cooper, and recently started playing t-ball.
“Thanks to CHRISTUS Children’s, Nolan gets to continue growing up and enjoying being a kid,” said Josh. “He’s excited to finally join the big kids in kindergarten this fall.”