Noah Mattingly is just seven years old, but has already faced cancer head-on not just once, not twice, but three times. A true fighter, he has endured surgeries, several rounds of high-dose chemotherapy, grueling radiation treatments, and long periods of isolation from friends. His family and supporters refer to him as “Super Noah.”
But any superhero occasionally needs help from others to overcome adversity. For Noah, and his fight against cancer, those helpers are his friends, family, and the lifesaving blood donors right here in his community.
Noah’s fight against cancer began in May 2018, when he wasn’t quite five years old.
“We had noticed something in his belly and were going to schedule an appointment with his pediatrician to have it checked. We accelerated things because his preschool teacher noticed it one day and said something to us,” recalls Megin Mattingly, Noah’s mother. “It was PJ day that day and his shirt was looking tight. We called that day to have him looked at, and when we got into the doctor, the pediatrician felt something hard in his belly.”
Noah’s parents were instructed to take their son to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where scans were taken of Noah’s abdomen to rule out a blockage. But the results ended up being a parent’s worst nightmare.
“The physicians at Cincinnati Children’s pulled us to another room and told us they found what looked like a tumor,” Megin says. “Noah was admitted the same day and had surgery four days later to have his left kidney and tumor removed. The diagnosis was a stage 4 Wilms Tumor, and the cancer had spread to his lungs as well.”
Wilms’ tumor is the most common form of kidney cancer in children. This type of cancer develops from immature kidney cells that have not differentiated fully into the various types of cells that make up a kidney. It takes 3 or 4 years for all the kidney cells to mature, but in rare cases, some of the immature cells start to grow out of control, forming a tumor.
“It was absolutely devastating to learn your child has cancer,” Megin says. “Not something you would ever think could happen to your child.”
The following days and weeks, she says, were a whirlwind. Noah’s treatment plan was developed and implemented quickly to halt the cancer.
“Noah had several weeks of chemotherapy and eight rounds of radiation. His last cycle of chemo was in December of 2018,” Megin recalls—and blood transfusions were an essential part of his treatment plan. Chemotherapy can kill the dangerous cancer cells, but healthy blood cells, necessary for delivering oxygen to organs, are also killed in the process.
“Noah tolerated the first part of treatment really well, but in the fall of 2018, the radiation and chemo really started taking a toll on him. His blood count numbers started to get lower and it took longer for him to recover. You could see Noah just lose energy or have no energy at all as his numbers would drop,” Megin says. “The transfusions were like a jump start. By the time we got home from the hospital after a blood transfusion, his energy levels would be much higher!”
The chemotherapy, radiation, and regular transfusions of healthy blood cells worked: The follow-up scans in January of 2019 showed that Noah was in remission, and he was able to go back to kindergarten in person.
“He had a great nine months getting to be a kid again,” says Megin.
That feeling of relief was cut short, though. Noah’s nine-month treatment scans showed the cancer had returned in September of 2019.
“This time it was much harder to tell Noah he had cancer because he knew what it meant and what was ahead for him,” Megin recalls. “He only spent about a week and a half in first grade before we had to pull him to go through the next round.”
Once again, Noah and his family steeled themselves for a grueling treatment plan of more chemotherapy. “In early February of 2020, scans showed the treatment was working, but they wanted to knock it out. In late February, he had a cycle of high dose chemo which really did a number on him,” says Megin. “That was followed by a stem cell transplant (of his own cells, which were harvested by Hoxworth Blood Center). He spent 36 nights in the hospital for those things.”
Throughout all of this, blood transfusions continued to sustain Noah. “Blood and platelet transfusions have played a huge role over the course of Noah's treatment,” according to Megin. “I have no idea how many transfusions Noah has had to have, but I'm pretty confident in saying that Noah is in double digits for receiving blood and platelets.”
Noah will continue to need transfusions during his battle—in October 2020, routine scans showed more spots were growing in his lungs and considered cancerous. The team at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was able to get him enrolled in a clinical trial, and Noah seems to be responding well.
“He is gaining weight like a kid his age should be doing. His hair is thinning, but he hasn't lost it all like the previous two times through treatment,” says Megin. “Hopefully by March or April of 2021, we can say he is 3-0 against cancer. We just want this fight to be over for good.”
If Noah didn't have access to blood products when needed, there is a distinct possibility his outcomes would not have been so good...Who knows what would have happened if he didn't get the transfusions when he needed them?
Megin Mattingly, Noah's mother
This fight, she adds, has been hard on the entire family—on Megin, on her husband Michael, and Noah’s two sisters. “Watching Noah go through cancer treatment is the hardest thing we have ever had to do. You watch the chemo drip, or give the oral chemo, and know you are actively putting poison into their little body in an effort to hopefully cure them,” Megin says. But throughout the grueling treatments and hospital stays, there have been moments that offer a spark hope—for instance, the fact that friends and family have rallied to donate blood in Noah’s honor.
The first “Super Noah Squad” Giveback Drive took place in December of 2020, with dozens of people showing up to roll up their sleeves to replenish the local blood supply and support other patients like Noah.
“It is humbling to see people be so willing to help,” according to Megin. “I'm told there were a number of first-time donors at the blood drive we had. Some said they would want others to do the same if it was their kid in need. Others have donated just because Noah is an amazing kid and people love to do things to help him.”
“It is good to know there are so many great people who would do whatever they can to help,” she adds. “There is no way we will ever be able to properly thank every person!”
And while Noah’s family is grateful beyond words for the support—and blood donations—of their family and friends during this stressful period, there’s another group of total strangers that deserves recognition, too: The blood donors who make the time to save the lives of strangers.
“If Noah didn't have access to blood products when needed, there is a distinct possibility his outcomes would not have been so good, or he could have spent a lot longer in the hospital hoping his body would recover on its own,” says Megin. “If I could speak to the people who donated the blood that Noah received… I would give them a huge thank you and (in non-COVID times) a huge hug to go along with it. Who knows what would have happened if he didn't get the transfusions when he needed them?”
“Please donate,” she finishes. “Your donations make a difference.”