KTTV staff with chef Jack Witherspoon (bottom) and Theodore B. Moore, M.D. (top center)

UCLA Pediatric Hem/Onc Program Helps Aspiring Young Chef

Jack Witherspoon was 2 years old when he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common type of blood cancer that afflicts children. The Redondo Beach boy underwent two rigorous treatments in his battle against the disorder, but kept relapsing.

Last August, Witherspoon came to Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA for a
bone marrow transplant, which is considered a last-resort treatment. Today,
the 11-year-old boy is cancer-free and in such good health that he has been taken off his immunosuppressant medications and prophylactic antibiotics.

The aspiring young chef, who says he began watching cooking shows during one of his many hospitalizations, has just published a cookbook called Twist it Up, which includes more than 60 kid-friendly comfort-food recipes that he developed with his mom. Proceeds from the book go to an endowment in his name and the Beckstrand Cancer Foundation, for which he serves as spokesman.

“He’s doing absolutely wonderfully,” says Theodore B. Moore, M.D., pediatric hematologist/oncologist and Witherspoon’s primary physician at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. “We were able to get one of the best matched donors I’ve ever seen and he is having a wonderful recovery.”

Witherspoon is one of about 350 new pediatric patients who seek treatment every year at UCLA’s Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Program. The program is renowned for its multidisciplinary care and leading-edge research, including a soon-to-be-launched Phase I clinical trial of a new brain cancer vaccine and a gene therapy project to treat leukemia.

Every year, about 7,000 children, most between the ages of 2 and 10 years, are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. One out of five children treated with chemotherapy will suffer relapses. When bone marrow transplants are performed, these patients have a 60 to 80 percent chance of survival, depending on the quality of the match, Dr. Moore says.

A cheek swab is all that is required to become a potential bone marrow donor. If a possible match is made, a blood sample is drawn and some tests are performed to determine compatibility. Donors generally return to their activities in a couple of days and fully recover their own bone marrow within a few weeks.

For more information, visit the National Donor Program at www.marrow.org.

To watch a video of Jack’s story, visit: http://uclahealth.org/JackWitherspoon