A Five-Year-Old Michigan Boy Finds Out He Has Cancer after Losing His First Tooth; What to Know about Myelodysplastic Syndromes

Published Oct 29, 2021

Abigail Seaberg

Understanding Myelodysplastic Syndromes

  • A 5-year-old Michigan boy was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome – a type of blood disorder also known as a form of blood cancer – after he wouldn’t stop bleeding following the loss of his first tooth.
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes occur when immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells.
  • The bone marrow is the factory that makes all of the cells that wind up in our bloodstream.
  • Blood cancers, in general, generally mean that your bone marrow is not functioning correctly.

Losing your first tooth is supposed to be a time of celebration. But for a 5-year-old Michigan boy, this milestone was met with dismay when it revealed a blood cancer diagnosis.

The parents of Ryder Washington, from Farmington Hills, Michigan, knew something was wrong when their son wouldn’t stop bleeding after he lost the first of his tiny teeth. They rushed him to the hospital and were fearful for their son’s fate.

“Immediately [we] started hearing terms like oncology, hematology,” the boy’s mother, Kimberli Washington, told Detroit TV station Fox 2. “We got super-nervous—prayed and hoped that wasn’t our journey.”

Unfortunately, little Ryder was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome – a type of blood disorder also known as a form of blood cancer. Now, he’s receiving platelet transfusions and will eventually need to undergo chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant.

“As far as what the future holds, we never know,” the boy’s father, Terrence Washington, told Fox 2.

The family is now is search of a bone marrow donor for Ryder and has signed up for the Be the Match registry – a donor registry connecting patients searching for a cure and life-saving bone marrow donors.

What are Myelodysplastic Syndromes?

Myelodysplastic syndromes, also considered to be forms of blood cancer, are a group of rare cancers in which immature blood cells in the bone marrow do not mature or become healthy blood cells. So, in order to understand myelodysplastic syndromes, it’s important to talk about the bone marrow.

“The bone marrow is the factory that makes all of the cells that wind up in our bloodstream,” Dr. Mikkael Sekeres, the chief of the Division of Hematology at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, previously told SurvivorNet.

The bone marrow makes red blood cells which bring oxygen to our tissues, white blood cells which fight infections and platelets which help stop bleeding.

“When a person has a cancer of the bone marrow, such as acute myeloid leukemia or myelodysplastic syndromes, that factory gets broken,” he explained.

Dr. Sekeres also explained that these kinds of cancers present a bit of a paradox with their “liquid tumors.”

“Instead of being a cancer in the breast where somebody develops a lump, or cancer in the lungs where somebody might develop a mass, with these sort of liquid tumors, the cells grow within a very confined space of the bone marrow,” he said. “As these cancers grow and grow and grow, those normal bone marrow cells that make the red blood cells, the white blood cells and the platelets start to die off.  And the bone marrow gets filled with cancer cells.

“So there’s a bit of a paradox with these cancers… The bone marrow has too many cells, yet the bloodstream has too few cells as the normal bone marrow cells die off.”

How Race Affects Blood Cancer Risk

According to the National Cancer Institute, myelodysplastic syndromes often do not cause early signs or symptoms. Still, possible signs and symptoms of these cancer can include the following:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness or feeling tired
  • Having skin that is paler than usual
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding)

Understanding Blood Cancer

Blood cancers, in general, can affect the bone marrow, blood cells, lymph nodes and other parts of the lymphatic system. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society reports that every 3 minutes, one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer.

What is a Blood Cancer – How is it Different?

University of California at San Francisco hematologist-oncologist Dr. Nina Shah has previously told SurvivorNet that having a blood cancer generally means your bone marrow is not functioning correctly which can lead to conditions like anemia – a deficiency of healthy red blood cells.

“Or you can have low platelets, which makes it possible for you to bleed easily. Or your immune system is not functioning correctly. And you can have infections that most people won’t have. One cell got really selfish,” said Dr. Shah. “And decided that it needed to take up all the resources of everybody else. And, in doing so, took up space and energy from the rest of the body.”

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