At 15-months, Jaylen Smiley seemed to be a happy and healthy baby. Three months later Violet Smiley began to observe changes in her son. “He was a very good baby, but I noticed he was becoming irritable and didn’t sleep,” she said. Believing that Jaylen had an ear infection, his pediatrician started him on antibiotics. “He didn’t get any better and I also noticed that his stomach was protruding,” Smiley said. After more antibiotics and a round of injections failed to clear up what his doctors now believed to be infection in both ears, Smiley insisted they run additional tests. “I knew something different was going on,” she said. In December 2001, just days before Christmas, the Smileys received the news that Jaylen had acute lymphocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
For six months Jaylen received chemotherapy at Children’s of Alabama under the care of Dr. Raymond Watts and Dr. Lee Hilliard. “We felt he tolerated it well, but we knew there was a chance of a relapse,” Smiley said. Two months after completing chemo, Jaylen did relapse. “He was vomiting and running a low-grade fever, so we took him in for labs and they came back normal,” Smiley said. “My intuition just told me something was wrong and I asked Dr. Watts, ‘Can we please do another test?’ He was so wonderful. He told me, ‘Violet, mothers know their children,’ and he ordered another test.” That test showed abnormal cells in Jaylen’s spinal fluid.
In the year that followed, Jaylen received additional chemotherapy and as well as radiation to his brain and his spinal column. Throughout his treatment, Smiley says that their family received outstanding support from the doctors and the staff at Children’s. “Dr. Watts was his primary doctor and Dr. Hilliard would fill in when he was not available. I wish I had an award of a million dollars I could give them. Dr. Watts is just a great listener. I felt I could talk to him about what my feelings or concerns were. He was just awesome and Dr. Hilliard was the same. I can’t explain the appreciation we have for the two of them,” she said.
Jaylen’s leukemia has been in remission since July 2004. Although he takes growth hormones to help overcome the residual effects of his treatment and sees his doctors at Children’s once a year, he is an active 13-year-old who plays the drums and participates in basketball, baseball, track and golf. “We try to keep him busy and occupied and let him develop normally, and he does fine. He’s just very caring and a great kid,” Smiley said.