Milford Special Education Teacher and Former Coach Helping Daughter Battle Leukemia
Special to The Spinal Column by Mark H. Stowers
It was the first Christmas for newborn Maleena Hill in 2011. But she wasn’t feeling well and her dad, Jeff Hill- Milford High School special education teacher and former head football coach – took her to get checked out. At barely six weeks old, Maleena was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“We took her in to get her checked out just after Christmas because she was a little fussy,” said Hill, a Royal Oak native. “They came back after some bloodwork with a diagnosis of leukemia. That stops your world.”
The disease is a cancer of the white blood cells characterized by excess lymphoblasts, or immature cells. But now one year later, Maleena is responding well to treatments and is actually spending more time at home with her mom, Natalie and older sister Macy. The family is learning to cope with and understand the daily routines and reactions to take when needed.
“We know what to expect and everything is not a new thing,” Hill said. “We understand what the protocol is now. The biggest thing for us is that we have not had any major ‘hiccups’ in the road for us. Things are progressing really well. She’s in remission. That’s the best news we could ask for at this point.”
Maleena will continue to receive chemotherapy for the next 12-months and if there are no problems or setbacks, doctors and family will “start the clock for her five-year window of not having any symptoms.” If Maleena passes that time frame symptom free then she will be declared cancer free.
“That’s when they officially rule you as cured for childhood leukemia,” Hill said. “Some different cancer groups go as far as 10 years. 2013 has the promise of better things.”
And she’s progressing normally in her development as well.
“She is completely hitting all of her milestones. She started walking at 11-months,” he said. “She has days where she’s sick from the chemo of the other meds and that’s normal for all this stuff. This Christmas will be interesting because she has to go back for her last major chemo hospitalization on December 26.”
The Hills have to be very careful as the treatments weaken Maleena’s ability to fight simple germs as colds and flu. So the family spends a lot of time at home and can’t be more than an hour away from the hospital.
“If we go anywhere outside of 45 minutes or an hour’s drive, we have to talk to our hematologist and plan out where hospitals are if we go,” he said.
With Maleena’s health a constant, consistent daily battle, Hill gave up his position as Royal Oak’s head coach last January.
“I can’t make plans because I don’t know what tomorrow brings,” he said. “But at the end of the day we still have tons of support coming from so many different people. It’s amazing.”
The Hills have a webpage, www.caringbridge.org/visit/maleenahill, where updates and notes are posted on her battle.