WEATHERFORD, Okla.- Five year old Kaydence Nelson will tell you without hesitation that her nickname is "donkey." That may sound like an offensive name for a bright eyed little girl, until you ask her parents about it.
"If she wasn't so stubborn, I don't think she'd be here," says her mother, Tarah Nelson. "I'd say she's like a sassy stubborn."
Kaydence is from Weatherford, and on this breezy day on the prairie, she is running around with her siblings and tossing balls for her dog. Her laughter is carried by the wind.
She has four brothers and sisters, including a baby brother who was scheduled to go home from the hospital on the same day she almost died. To understand how that happened, you have to go back several weeks to July 2018 when Kaydence's parents noticed she was very pale, and covered in bruises.
Her dad admits, "I was stupid and Googled the symptoms before we even took her in." The diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.
"I lost it. I broke down," recalls Tarah Nelson.
They say when it rains it pours, and that couldn't have been more true for the Nelsons. While Tarah was in the maternity ward of OU Medical Center with her fifth child, Kaydence was on another floor being treated with chemotherapy for her cancer. Unexpectedly, her body began to shut down with a raging E. coli infection.
"They told us her heart had stopped and she had to be resuscitated. They gave her 15 minutes of CPR, and then they spent four hours trying to get stabilized in ICU on the 4th floor," Tarah tearfully recalls.
"We all have E. coli in our system, but when our blood counts are low, it can get out of our intestinal tract and in the blood stream where it shouldn't be," Dr. Chinni Pokola, from Jimmy Everest Cancer Center, explains.
Dr Pokola says it's amazing to see Kaydence's rebound from death's door to her current state of health.
"She feisty. She's stubborn, but in a good way" says Dr Pokola.
Kaydence is not out of the woods yet, however. Her cancer has shown some resistance, so she'll be going to Texas to receive a relatively new treatment called CAR-T Cell Therapy. It's a procedure where doctors modify her own immune cells to attack the cancer in her body. It's proven to be a promising therapy that will also spare her from having to undergo a stem cell transplant.
Kaydence's family and friends now wear T-shirts that show their support for her with the title "Donkey Strong." Everyone is praying and believing she will grow up cancer free, running around her patch of prairie near Weatherford with her dog and siblings.
If you'd like to help kids like Kaydence fight cancer, consider donating to JECFriends.org
'Kids with Courage' is sponsored by the Jimmy Everest Center.