Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: Nikoloz’s Story

Nikoloz was first diagnosed and treated for leukemia in his native country of Georgia. Shortly after the family moved to Philadelphia, his cancer came back. In such situations, CHOP’s free translation services are crucial.

Nikoloz, who goes by Nick, was born in Georgia, a former Soviet republic that sits northeast of Turkey. When he was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common form of childhood cancer.

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“I don’t remember much about it,” says Nick, now 11. “I had a fever, and my legs hurt so much, I couldn’t walk.” He was treated in Georgia and was considered to be in remission.

In 2015, his father, Irakli, and mother, Gulisa, came to the United States and settled in Philadelphia to be near relatives who live in the city.

Then, when Nick was 9, “Out of nowhere, my leg started hurting,” he explains. “My back hurt so bad.” Two days later, his family took him to the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia — luckily, the city where they settled has one of the best pediatric cancer programs in the world, because Nick’s leukemia had relapsed.

While Nick speaks fluent English — he can give a very detailed run-down of the plots of his favorite books, such as Max the Mighty, a young adult novel by Rodman Philbrick — his parents’ English is limited. For families such as this, CHOP’s Language Services program is indispensible.

Indispensable Interpreters

At CHOP, language and communication assistance is provided at no cost to patients and their families — last year, communication assistance was needed at more than 102,000 encounters with patients, either face-to-face or over the phone. Interpreters are used for everything from obtaining medical histories to giving directions prior to surgery. The hospital has staff interpreters for Arabic, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese, which together make up the overwhelming majority of the needs. For less common languages such as Georgian, CHOP locates outside medical interpreters. At every one of Nick’s appointments, an in-person Georgian interpreter is present.

With Nick’s diagnosis and treatment clearly explained to the family, he underwent chemotherapy to treat the disease and lumbar punctures to monitor the progress. Because of all the challenges he has faced, Nick is a year behind in school, but he talks enthusiastically about his interests: He’s in the school choir, he loves soccer and baseball, he plays the video games Fortnite and Far Cry 5, and he enjoys reading.

Presented by Chapman Auto StoresIn the fall, shortly after he starts fifth grade, he’ll bring all his energy to the Parkway Run & Walk to help other children like him fight their cancer.