Mya McKenzie Nguyen is only 9 years old, and she has already beaten cancer six times. How? With the heart and courage of a lion – plus a nationwide search for new treatments that always led her family back home to LCH.

Child Health | 2 months ago

Five Cancer Relapses Can't Stop One Remarkable Girl

Mya McKenzie Nguyen is only 9 years old, and she has already beaten cancer six times. How? With the heart and courage of a lion – plus a nationwide search for new treatments that always led her family back home to LCH.

Beating cancer once is amazing. But for 9-year-old Mya McKenzie Nguyen to beat it six times? That takes the heart and courage of a lion, says her father, Thanh. 

Over the last six years, Mya McKenzie has had five relapses of precursor B-cell lymphoblastic leukemia, a blood-based cancer. She’s currently in clinical remission again – thanks to a nationwide search for new treatments, a devoted family and a courageous spirit that has helped her stay positive through it all.

Following her diagnosis at age 3, Mya McKenzie received chemotherapy here at Levine Children’s Hospital. After several relapses, her LCH care team recognized that the normal courses of therapy would not be enough to defeat her disease.

“Working with research partners at other institutions, the doctors at LCH have been very helpful in finding the right treatments for Mya McKenzie, wherever they may be,” says Thanh. That meant searching out experimental therapies around the country – but always returning to LCH to receive the ongoing, compassionate care her family trusted.

Thanks to LCH connections, she was the first patient enrolled in a groundbreaking clinical trial at Duke University testing a new anti-cancer therapy that held her cancer at bay for six months. Then she returned to LCH to receive a blood marrow transplant from her mother, who was a perfectly matched donor. When her doctors saw that this approach wasn’t working, they helped Mya McKenzie enroll in trials at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, and Seattle Children’s Hospital. As part of these studies, her white blood cells were removed and re-engineered to target her cancer. Before her doctors in Seattle could reintroduce her retrained immune cells late this summer, her cancer could no longer be detected.

Throughout her time in and out of hospitals, Mya McKenzie has exhibited a “special grace,” says Thanh. She does whatever the doctors ask, taking bad news in stride. She’s even the one to console her parents. “Her doctors have told me she’s such a great patient. They’ve never seen someone so positive,” says Thanh. 

To stay cancer-free, she’s now on maintenance therapy back at LCH – a journey that has given Thanh a deep education on the complexities of cancer. Joking that the only thing he knew about the body before Mya McKenzie’s diagnosis was that “blood was red,” Thanh is now well-versed on the latest trials and novel immunotherapies, reading research articles to find the next breakthrough that can finally cure his daughter. “You have to have hope. You have to keep fighting. Miraculous events do occur,” says Thanh.

He credits the entire LCH care team, not only for their medical expertise but also their caring. For instance, some of Mya McKenzie’s nurses traveled to see her when she was receiving care outside of Charlotte.

Two years ago, Thanh decided to give back to the hospital. An experienced IT engineer, he took a job with Carolinas HealthCare System. “I wanted to use my talents to make the system even stronger than before,” says Thanh. “But with the care they’ve given Mya McKenzie, we’ve been rewarded more than I could ever give.”