New Kent 6-year-old returns to school after bone marrow transplant, health issues

aluck@tidewaterreview.com

New Kent first grader Paisley Heath, who suffers from a rare genetic anemia and underwent a bone marrow transplant last year, finally returned to school after being home-schooled for more than a year.

Paisley, 6, was able to return to George Watkins Elementary School after winter break on Jan. 3. The last time Paisley was at school was in December 2017, according to her mother Suzi Heath.

“She did not go to school during any of 2018,” Heath said. “She was either homebound learning or learning at the hospital.”

Paisley was diagnosed with diamond blackfan anemia when she was 13 months old and underwent a bone marrow transplant this past February. She had health complications from the transplant, such as graft versus host disease, in which her immune system and the transplant were fighting each other. He immune system had to start from scratch, her mother said.

“She has been getting all new vaccines these past few months, which has delayed her from going back to school,” Heath said. “Essentially it’s like a newborn baby who is getting vaccines for their immune system. She sees her hematologist once or twice a month.”

After Heath and her doctor saw Paisley’s health and energy levels improve, they began to plan her return to school.

“We started planning around Thanksgiving and met with the principal, her teacher and counselor at the school,” Heath said.

Paisley’s doctor recommended she attend on a modified schedule, as she has not had a structured schedule for more than a year, according to Heath.

“We wanted to make sure she doesn’t get tired too fast and gets back into a routine,” Heath said. “She wears a mask at school, anywhere that isn’t our house.”

Principal Russ Macomber said he and all the students and staff eagerly awaited her return.

“We know that we are going to have to take things slow and monitor her schedule,” Macomber said. “Some days she comes in the morning and then some days in the afternoon. We want to make sure she’s doing OK and is exposed to those elements of both reading and math. Hopefully, if things go well after a few weeks, we can have her on a regular schedule.”

Paisley’s first-grade teacher Andrea Howard said she and the students welcomed Paisley to class.

“They were very excited to show her around the classroom,” Howard said. “We didn't do any particular thing to welcome Paisley back, but that was mostly because I have tried to make her feel like a member of our class since the beginning of the year.

“She has always had a desk ready for her, her name is on our door and every activity we do in class I have always made sure to include her name even though she wasn't here. The students have known that she was in our class, but we were just waiting until the doctor said she was well enough to come and join us.”

Howard said she takes certain precautions with Paisley due to her health condition, such as making sure she drinks only from her water bottle and calling her mom when she’s not feeling well instead of taking her to the clinic. She also needs to make sure Paisley always wears her mask.

Paisley will wear her mask indefinitely, according to Heath.

Paisley came into the classroom like she had been there all year, according to Howard.

“She raised her hand to answer questions, talked to peers around her, played with them at recess and was funny and personable with me,” Howard said. “She never skipped a beat.”

Heath said Paisley was ecstatic to get ready for school and told her she had a great first day with her friends.

“It’s amazing to see how far she has come,” Heath said. “Looking back at pictures from 2018 is heart-wrenching. It’s amazing how strong she is, she’s been a fighter the whole time.”

Paisley said she is glad to be back in school with her classmates.

“I love being back in school and learning how to read,” Paisley said.

Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, aluck@tidewaterreview.com or @ashleyrluck on Twitter

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