Mother's Day tribute: Kayla's fight was her mother's fight

May 10, 2014 | by Tami Dennis

This weekend, City of Hope salutes mothers – mothers who are our patients, yes, but also the mothers of patients. Their path is difficult, their role is critical.


BMT Reunion and Kayla Saikaly and family Adi Versano, center, the bone marrow donor for Kayla Saikaly, right, meets the Saikaly family: Samar, Alex and Riad. Credit: Bob Riha Jr.


The story of their children’s battle is also the story of their battle. Just ask Samar Saikaly.

When her daughter Kayla experienced a difficult-to-control nose bleed after a basketball game one day several years ago, Samar took notice. That nosebleed, combined with the unexplained bruises on her daughter’s skin, worried her. Samar called a physician – and began her daughter’s multiyear journey to overcome aplastic anemia.

But Kayla didn’t go through that journey alone. Samar was beside her every step of the way, guarding the best she could, fighting the best she could, doing everything possible to improve the odds in her daughter’s favor.

Kayla’s doctor at City of Hope, Nicole Karras, M.D., recently recalled Samar’s reaction to the news that Kayla’s chemotherapy regimen had to be intensified. “She just said: ‘Tell us what we have to do, and we will do it. We will keep her safe and infection free, whatever it takes.”’

And so the story of Kayla and her illness is also about Samar. The ordeal following her bone marrow transplant was arduous, and leaving the hospital was just the beginning of that ordeal:

“In fact, for her first 100 days home, Kayla stayed largely isolated inside her home on doctor's orders, and Samar stayed with her. Samar went only where her daughter went. When Kayla’s father and brother came home from work or school, they showered and changed clothes immediately. Her grandparents took care of the shopping, dropping the bags off before leaving.

“Kayla had her own phone that only she used. She even had her own couch on which only she sat, with Samar covering it in clean sheets every day – taking every precaution to protect her daughter’s new immune system while it was growing stronger.

“We completely followed all the instructions from the doctors and nurses from day one. You have to get up every day. You have to take a bath every day, no matter how bad you’re feeling. Food, it was hard to make her eat because her mouth was sore – but she tried. Medications were taken on time and not skipped. She was only 14, 15 and 16 when she went through all this – but everyone understood, our family and friends understood that this is what we had to do to make sure she got better.”

And Kayla did.


On Friday, May 9, Kayla met the young woman, Adi Versano, who donated the bone marrow that saved her life. Kayla’s father, Riad, and her brother, Alex, were both there at City of Hope's 38th annual Bone Marrow Reunion, also known as the Celebration of Life. And so was Samar.

Happy Mother's Day to Samar – and to all mothers who shepherd, protect and fight for their children with cancer.


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