Holden Harris is pictured with his father Josh.

By Aila Boyd

aboyd@ourvalley.org

Holden Harris, the son of Botetourt County native Josh Harris, has two things to celebrate.

After undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy to treat Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), the news came that Holden was in remission. It came in time for his first birthday, which is today.

“We never thought we’d be going through this around his birthday,” Josh said.

Just like any other 1-year-old, Holden smashed his birthday cake while his family fawned over him.

“It was the best possible scenario considering the situation. It’s all we could have asked for,” Josh said of news of Holden’s remission.

The attending doctor who is heading up Holden’s treatment reported that this is the first time in the past three years that he has had a leukemia patient who has gone into remission after just the initial induction.

Currently at home recovering, Holden has to go into the clinic during the week to have his blood counts checked and his bandages changed. The next round of chemotherapy will commence once his blood counts recover. In total, three more rounds of it will be required. As the rounds proceed, the strength of the chemotherapy will increase. The process is called “intensification.” While being administered the additional rounds, he will be required to remain in the hospital for six to eight days.

Josh reports that his son is handling the tough situation phenomenally well.

“He doesn’t act like anything is holding him back. He wants to go as much as he can and just be a normal kid,” Josh said. “He’s still that happy-go-lucky kid.”

The only setbacks that Holden has faced so far have been low-grade fevers and nausea.

To date, three generations of the Harris family have been diagnosed with leukemia. First it was Josh, then it was his mother, and lastly, it was Holden.

Josh overcame his battle with AML at the age of 19 in 2006. Ten years later, his mother was also diagnosed with it.

Holden was diagnosed on March 7 of this year following a trip to an urgent care center because he had been sick for several days with a temperature of well over 100 degrees.

Despite the good news about Holden’s remission, another revelation loomed large over the entire Harris family. Genetic testing reveled that both Josh and Holden have the same mutation of the CEBPA gene, which means that the AML that they both had was familial and was being passed down hereditarily.

It was also recently confirmed that Josh’s mother has the same mutation of the CEBPA gene as well.

According to the genetic counselor that the family spoke to, there are only 11 families in the medical literature with a mutation of the CEBPA gene. However, none of the 11 other families have the exact same mutation that they have.

Josh explained that testing for the gene only started in 2016 and that there’s a shortage of published information in it at the moment.

There is a 50/50 chance that the mutation will be passed down from parent to child. Because of that chance, Josh has started the process of having his daughter, Piper, tested to determine whether or not she has the same mutation. His siblings are also undergoing similar testing.

Just because the mutation is present, there isn’t a guarantee that a person will develop AML. Two mutations are needed in order to develop it.

One of the things that still puzzles him, Josh explained, is the fact that he, his mother, and his son all developed AML at different points in their lives. Right now, the medical establishment doesn’t have an answer.

Harris, his wife Jessica, and two children currently reside in Richmond.

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