A RARE MOMENT of peace for Dimitri Streit, the grandson of Monticello resident Debby Mannino. The toddler, who will be 2 later this month, is undergoing chemotherapy for neuroblastoma.
Toddler in chemo, locals rally to help
By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO If she could trade places with her grandson, she would.
In a heartbeat.
But Debby Mannino is in Monticello. Her grandson, Dimitri Streit, is clinging to life in Raleigh, N.C.
At 1 1/2, the son of Mannino’s only child went from running and jumping and dancing his sillies out to a seven-hour surgery in the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill Medical Center, to losing his ability to walk, his ability to lift his head.
Streit’s father, Christopher, graduated from Monticello High School in 1993. In 2004, he “met the woman of his dreams,” Felicia. Already a mom, Felicia nonetheless got pregnant and delivered Dimitri Oct. 24, 2006.
With bright brown eyes and soft round curls, the little boy crawled right into his grandmother’s heart.
Two months ago, she got the call. Dimitri had been diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve tissue that usually strikes in early childhood.
“They say it was likely in vitro,” Mannino explained. “The tumor was there when he was born, but as he grew, it grew.”
One day, Dimitri fell off the couch. Felicia Streit noticed soon after that he was favoring one side, and his hand was shaking. She called the doctor.
“They were pooh-poohing her, treating her like she was just a neurotic mother,” Mannino said.
Then his eyes began to twitch. They sent him for tests. An MRI found the tumor at the back of the shoulder. In his tiny body, it was so large that it was threatening both the heart and the spinal cord. The tumor itself was the neuroblastoma, a cancer that occurs in just 400 children a year.
The twitching would give way to near total paralysis as the days passed, and earn Dimitri a diagnosis of opsomyoclonus (OMS). Called “dancing eyes and dancing feet syndrome,” it’s markedly more rare than the cancer. Only 2 percent of neuroblastoma patients have OMS, and yet 50 percent of the cases of OMS are in kids with neuroblastoma.
It’s what’s paralyzing Dimitri. In many ways, it scares Mannino more than the cancer.
“How can a little kid who is so sweet and innocent ...” she said, trailing off. “My only son, my only grandson, it’s like, why not me?”
Dimitri came through surgery at UNC Chapel Hill the surgeon who worked on the tumor works on about half of the neuroblastoma cases in the states each year. He still faces 18 months of chemotherapy.
He’s also on steroids to try to reduce the inflammation in his body, to try to combat the OMS. It’s had some success, but the steroids can drive the tiny boy into a sort of ‘roid rage. He cries to the point where he’s inconsolable, and yet he’s too young to put into words what he wants. He just cries.
The treatments and the damage to his spinal cord will have lasting effects, regardless of the outcome.
“They told us to expect learning difficulties,” Mannino said with a sigh. “They say he may never walk again.”
Christopher has been granted time to spend with the family by the restaurant where he works, and patrons have donated funds, but the Streits have no health insurance and Felicia has had to stop working to stay home with Dimitri. They also still have their elder son to care for, and mounting bills.
Dimitri has been put into a research group to try to find the cause for the OMS and neuroblastoma cases that occur in kids. Mannino said that should cover some of the healthcare costs, although it won’t help with a lot of the incidentals a pint-sized wheelchair, gas to drive back and forth for doctor’s visits and chemotherapy. The trip from the Streit’s home in Raleigh to Chapel Hill is akin to driving between Liberty and Middletown.
Mannino’s co-workers at the Liberty Medical Group, where she’s been a medical assistant for the past 28 years, are trying to raise funds to help the family. They’ve helped set up a fund at the First National Bank of Jeffersonville in Debby Mannino’s name, so donations can be made at any of the bank’s 10 branches.
“They won’t tell us what his chances are,” she continued, her voice breaking. “They say every kid is different. They avoid answering.
“The only good thing they say is kids don’t know they can’t they figure out other ways to do things.”