Two-year-old battling cancer has completion date in sight, family thanks Children’s Miracle Network

Ava Pena’s family says the resources made available by CMN have helped through the process.
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 8:28 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Two-year-old Ava Pena is working toward her chemo completion date after a scary diagnosis more than a year ago. Through something so hard for any age, especially this young, everyone says her smile has remained big.

Looking at Ava now, you wouldn’t even notice she’s a year into chemotherapy. The journey started when her parents, Nick and Holly, noticed she was running a fever and had a rash all over her body. They turned to UMC Children’s Hospital. That’s where Pediatric Oncologist Dr. Mohamad Al-Rahawan diagnosed her with a common type of cancer.

“We diagnosed her with the most common pediatric malignancy, which is acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” Dr. Al-Rahawan said.

The day after they found out what Ava had, she started chemo.

“It was just very quick, sudden and scary,” Nick said.

Little Ava’s body would quickly endure the battle.

“They immediately went and put a port in, so that they could access her and have access to do bloodwork and anything, it wouldn’t hurt her,” Holly said.

Being so young, Nick said the frustrating part was her not being able to say what was hurting or when she didn’t feel well. That’s when the nurses and doctors stepped in to comfort Ava and her family.

“Having the doctors, and the nurses and the staff explain everything, and there to answer every question was, you know, very helpful,” Nick said.

The Children’s Miracle Network makes resources available for children in treatment, a treatment that for some wouldn’t otherwise be available.

“So, you end up having to either compromise on the care or have support from elsewhere, and Children’s Miracle Network builds the unit, helps the kids have access to resources and contribute a lot to their well-being,” Dr. Al-Rahawan said.

It also builds them a support system that keeps them laughing throughout the tough times.

“The characters, the books, the child-life specialist, the support group that rallies around them,” Dr Al-Rahawan said.

Holly tells KCBD she is so thankful for Ava’s child life specialist who became a friend.

“She loves Play-Doh, so they would bring her Play-Doh and just all kinds of things, and they would bring her books, and just trying to help her get through whatever procedure we had to do at that time,” Holly said.

That care has all been here at home at UMC Children’s Hospital. Nick said that has been beneficial for kids like Ava and miracle kids from around the region.

“Without the support of the community, and to keep these services going, it’s difficult because not everybody that’s here seeking treatment is from Lubbock,” Nick said.

Ava’s completion date is in September of next year. As they get closer, they see this miracle unfold.

“We definitely do see that this is a miracle, we have another year, we’ve been told she’s on the right path and that we have a completion date,” Nick said.

Doctors, child life specialists and her family are looking toward that day while celebrating every small step.

“We take it a day at a time, so we celebrate every opportunity that we get, and one of the biggest celebration I think is that celebration when they get to say, ‘No more chemo,’” Dr. Al-Rahawan said.