Young cancer patient returns home

Rounds of chemotherapy and a fourth bone marrow transplant were critical for 9-year-old leukemia patient Brennan Simkins. The best prescription the doctor could write, though, ordered Tara and Turner Simkins to return Brennan and his brothers, Nat and Christopher, to their Augusta home.


"It's a dream come true," said Brennan, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in January 2009.

The Simkins family moved back to Memphis, Tenn., last September after a routine checkup at St. Jude Children's Research Center showed more signs of leukemia. Brennan received his fourth transplant Jan. 27.

"One of the beautiful things about coming home is eating at the dining room table and all five of us sleeping under one roof. He hasn't had that in 10 months," Tara Simkins said.

The family must adjust to living in Augusta again as a new school year creeps up on the three boys. His two brothers will return to St. Mary on the Hill Catholic School, but Brennan cannot expose his weakened immune system to a classroom filled with common germs.

"Brenny," as family and friends call him, will add three hours of tutoring each week to a daily routine of medicine treatments. He swallows 18 pills twice a day, uses an internal feeding tube and takes an appetite stimulant two other times.

"Your routine changes so much. You can't eat out; public places are off limits," Tara Simkins said. "It was just an opportunity to get very creative and imaginative."

Julie Batchelor, a 27-year veteran teacher, began lessons with Brennan last year before he was called back to St. Jude. She will work with teachers and administrators at St. Mary to adapt lesson plans for Brennan again this year.

"You try to get them on grade level, but you have to look from the perspective that these children are ill," Batchelor said.

The individualized tutoring allows for flexibility on days that Brennan might not have the energy level for class. Batchelor, who has tutored one other sick child, tries to keep lessons fun and challenging.

"They have been through more than most of us. You want to do something they can look forward to," she said.

Coming back to Augusta offered Brennan a real-life perspective on beating leukemia, Turner Simkins said. Brennan can be surrounded by his brothers, reunite with neighborhood buddies and play with his dog while the family and doctors continue to monitor his progress.

"I want to celebrate the first anniversary of his fourth transplant," his father said. "We have a lifetime of thanks to give. Right now, we're just getting our bearings back on being home."

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