Fighting for her life, Bridgeville girl has formidable support network

Megan Guza
| Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Four-year-old Sydney Hawk loves to dance and play with her big sister. She likes to read and play pretend.

She doesn't like to spend time in the hospital, but that's where the Bridgeville girl found herself for four months over the course of spring and summer. And now, after a one-month reprieve, she is back there again.

Sydney was diagnosed in March with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the white blood cells most commonly found in children.

“She is so strong and just has such a will to go on and be happy and laugh and play,” said her mother, Karin Hawk. “She's such a great little girl.”

What started as a winter of colds, flus and sinus infections turned into much more when, on March 5, Karin took her daughter to the doctor with a persistent fever. The pediatrician tested Sydney's hemoglobin — her white blood cell count — and found it to be drastically low.

“They said, ‘You need to take her to Children's (hospital) right away,'” Karin said.

That night, she said, the family learned about Sydney's leukemia.

“From there, it was just a matter of figuring out which kind she had and then, begin chemo right away,” she said.

Sydney went home 10 days later, but her stay was short-lived. Because of the chemotherapy, Sydney's white blood cells were depleted. Three days later, on March 18, her family rushed her to the hospital with a fever and stomach pain. She developed an infection, which started a months-long fight for her life.

The infection put Sydney in the intensive care unit for 42 days.

“It was horrible for her,” Karin said. “She was incubated. It was absolutely terrifying. Sydney developed lesions in her brain. She had seizures and lung issues and developed severe wounds.

“All from the infection,” her mother said. “It was throughout her body. She was faced with fighting this infection and not even fighting her cancer — not even fighting what she was originally put in the hospital for.”

It also was discovered that Sydney has a chromosomal abnormality called Philadelphia chromosome, which occurs in 5 percent of childhood ALL cases and hinders treatment.

On July 31, they received a reprieve.

“It was wonderful. She was able to come home,” Karin said. “The doctor said, ‘You guys need a break.'” It has given Sydney a chance to have “a little bit of a normal life” — she spent time playing with her big sister, Addison, and having fun. She had in-home physical therapy.

“When she came out of the ICU, she was like a newborn from all of that de-conditioning that happened from the weeks she was not moving,” Karin said.

Sydney went back to the hospital Aug. 27 for continuing treatment of her ALL.

“It took her a really long time after being in the ICU to talk again, to eat normal foods,” Karin said. “Then we finally saw her little personality start to come out again. She was just like, ‘I'm sick, and that's why I'm in the hospital.' She knew that, and that was that.”

She said Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC's child-oriented approach lessens the trauma of the experience.

“They just do such a phenomenal job making kids have fun – they go to the playroom and have crafts and events,” she said. “They try and make the focus not on being sick, but focus on the child as a whole.”

Because of mounting medical bills, friends in Bridgeville and Holy Child Parish will hold a spaghetti dinner benefit Sept. 10 at the Bridgeville Fire Hall from 1 to 5 p.m., and tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children under 12. For details, call 412-257-8081.

Megan Guza is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5810 or

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