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Hoping for a P.E.I. Christmas

Kent and Rebecca Fraser, shown with their daughters, Marin, left, and Ella, are representing Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s 2018-19 Fall Molly Appeal supporting the Dalhousie Medical School. Ella spent her first Christmas last year at the IWK, receiving treatment for leukemia. Following months of successful treatment made possible by research, the Frasers are hopeful they will be able to bring their two daughters home to the Island this year for a big family Christmas. - Geworsky Imaging/Special to The Guardian
Kent and Rebecca Fraser, shown with their daughters, Marin, left, and Ella, are representing Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s 2018-19 Fall Molly Appeal supporting the Dalhousie Medical School. Ella spent her first Christmas last year at the IWK, receiving treatment for leukemia. Following months of successful treatment made possible by research, the Frasers are hopeful they will be able to bring their two daughters home to the Island this year for a big family Christmas. - Geworsky Imaging/Special to The Guardian - Contributed

Thanks to research, Fraser family looks forward to spending holidays at home on Prince Edward Island this year

Kent Fraser and Rebecca Martin-Fraser and their daughters, Marin and Ella, are hoping to join their extended families in Brudenell and Dover for Christmas this year, thanks to effective new treatments and medical research.

Last year the Frasers, who live on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, spent Christmas at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, after learning just two weeks earlier that one-year-old Ella had leukemia. They had known Ella faced a high risk of leukemia because she has Down syndrome, and this increases the lifetime risk of leukemia by 20 times. Still, the news came as a shock.

“It was heartbreaking for our family,” says Rebecca. “It was Ella’s first Christmas, and Marin was already looking forward to the family get-togethers and fun with her cousins on the Island. We kept our traditions alive as best we could, decorating a tree in Ella’s hospital room and putting out cookies for Santa.”

It turned out that Ella’s hematologist-oncologist, Dr. Jason Berman, was heading an international study to see if tailored treatments could reduce the side effects of chemotherapy for children with Down syndrome, while still providing excellent results.

“Ella did so well on the treatment regimen,” says Kent. “She had hardly any side effects… she only lost her hair after the last round of chemotherapy.”

Ella is in remission today, doing well, and looking forward to a family Christmas.

In gratitude, the Fraser family decided to share their story in support of Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s Molly Appeal, an annual campaign to raise funds for research at Dalhousie Medical School.

"We’re truly honoured to be part of this year’s Molly Appeal. The Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation has really been there for us and our daughter.”

- Rebecca Martin-Fraser

This year’s Molly Appeal is raising funds for an ImageStreamX Mark II, a powerful device that allows researchers to capture high-quality images of 5,000 cells per second—125 times faster than conventional cell-analysis equipment. This will accelerate Berman’s efforts to understand leukemia in its many forms and develop targeted treatments custom-designed to each individual patient and their particular version of the disease.

Berman is the founder of the Zebrafish Lab at Dalhousie Medical School in Halifax, where he grows various kinds of cancers — including forms of leukemia unique to children with Down syndrome — in the tiny fish.

“We’re the only lab in Canada and one of few in the world doing this kind of work,” Berman says.

“We can study responses to drugs that target specific genes and pathways turned on in the cancer cells,” he says. “These genes and pathways are like settings that control what the cancer cells do. By modifying these settings, we can kill the cancer cells.”

By giving to the Molly Appeal, Maritimers can assist this work and that of dozens of other researchers at Dalhousie Medical School who will use the ImageStream to find treatments and cures for cancer, inflammatory autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases and inherited diseases.

“We’re truly honoured to be part of this year’s Molly Appeal,” says Rebecca. “The Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation has really been there for us and our daughter.”

Ella rang the bell marking her last chemotherapy treatment on June 29, 2018. Her condition has continued to improve ever since, and her cancer is in remission today. She still needs to be in the hospital for a few weeks of chemo this year, as a preventative measure. But the Frasers hope to be able to ring in this New Year with extended family on Prince Edward Island.

For more information or to give to the Molly Appeal, visit Mollyappeal.ca or call 1-902-494-3502.

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