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Former cancer patient returns to Packard Children’s to open new doors

“Being sick isn’t fun, especially as a kid, but Packard Children’s allows you to put that aside and make the most of your life,” Lydia (Lee) You recently reflected as she walked through the new Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, slated to open in December. For You, the impending opening of the new hospital brings back special memories, which ABC Bay Area highlighted in a story last month.

On a sunny morning in June 1991, 7-year-old You arrived by ambulance to the brand-new Packard Children’s Hospital wearing a hot pink t-shirt emblazoned with the words “I Opened the Doors.” You's oncologist, Michael Link, MD, carried her through the hospital doors in his arms, where she became one of the first patients in the new building — and one of the first patients in the country — to undergo an aggressive experimental chemotherapy treatment for her rare and fast-growing form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Instead of the standard treatment, which involved multiple doses of chemo over the course of two years, You received high doses of chemotherapy over just five months.

At the time, the life expectancy for the form of cancer You had was very low. “It was very painful,” she said. “My hair fell out, I was throwing up, and I went from 60 pounds down to 30.”

Despite her illness, You remembers her time in the hospital with fondness. “The things that remain most clearly in my memory are the one-to-one academic sessions I looked forward to every day, the daily recreational craft times that I enjoyed with my little sister, and the nonsense chatter with all the nurses and doctors that kept my spirit alive each day,” she said. “I felt like a normal kid doing what other 7-year-olds do. The environment and the community at Packard Children’s made being a hospital patient an afterthought.”

The experimental treatment You was given worked. By January 1992, she was in complete remission. Today, Lydia is 33 years old and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their 17-month-old daughter, Paige. She returns home to Palo Alto to visit her parents often and has maintained a close relationship with Link over the years. “He has been so much more than a doctor to me,” she says, adding that Link attended her wedding in 2012 and that she shared her ultrasound image with him when she found out she was pregnant in 2015.

"When you see a patient grow up and look perfect as Lydia does, and has children and all the things we hope for our own children, that's what makes this very special for me," Link told ABC.

In appreciation for the care You received, her parents endowed the Lydia J. Lee Professorship in Pediatric Oncology at Stanford in 2002. Its first holder is Link, who began as a pediatric oncologist at Stanford in 1979 and continues to care for children with cancer at Packard Children’s today.

As You and Link walked the halls of the new hospital together last week, she reminisced about moving into the original facility in 1991. She remembers feeling excited about having her own phone and TV in her hospital room and receiving a giant stuffed teddy bear, which today sits in her daughter’s room. Looking at the new building, she said, “This space doesn’t feel like a hospital at all — I look at the beautiful hallways and playful gardens and it’s truly an incredible space that allows children to forget they are patients and escape from their illnesses. This hospital is even more gorgeous and fun than the children’s museum I take my daughter to!”

When it opens in December, the new hospital will add 149 patient beds and 3.5 acres of gardens and green space with features for patients and their family members to explore. Nearly all patient rooms will be private, with sleeping accommodations for two family members.

“It’s exciting to be back here at Packard Children’s, not as a patient, but as a supporter,” You said. “I’m so happy to be able to share my story with a new generation of patients and parents, and bring hope to them that life goes on after cancer.”

This article originally appeared on the Healthier, Happier Lives Blog.

Previously: New Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford to open in December and Peeking inside the expanding Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford
Photo courtesy of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford

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