When Nicole DeFeo Campbell's son, Nathan, started kindergarten in New Jersey last September, his teacher realized that something wasn't right. Two weeks after classes began at Zane North Elementary School, Katherine Keller noticed that Nathan didn't seem to want to go out and play like the other students.
"He stood alongside of me, and he said that his leg hurt and he didn't want to really go out and play, " she told ABC local affiliate KTRE.
Though Campbell initially thought that her son was simply battling a cold, Keller took him to the school nurse, Patti Butler, who instinctively knew it was something worse.
"She said, 'Do you feel like Nathan's coloring is off?'" Campbell recalled to the Courier-Post. "I said to her, 'No, not really. He's a little washed out – he's been sick.' I thought he had been fighting a cold."
But Butler, who noticed that the boy's skin had become translucent, insisted that she take her son to the doctor as soon as possible.
"His skin was translucent, and that's when I said, 'I've only see someone look this color once in 25 years, prove me wrong," Butler told KTRE.
"Honestly, I wrote it off," Campbell told. "I really thought she was being kind of alarmist because I didn't see anything wrong with him, and then the doctor himself called."
A few days later, the family received a call from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia telling them that Nathan's pale coloring, bruised skin, and aches were symptoms of leukemia. According to the Courier-Post, the hospital told the family that Nathan needed a blood transfusion immediately due to low levels of hemoglobin, and that his skin coloring was off because his blood couldn't carry enough oxygen.
Leukemia, a blood cancer, limits the body's ability to fight infections. According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, hemoglobin is a protein within red blood cells that distribute oxygen to other parts of the body. Since Nathan's levels of hemoglobin were so low, his blood couldn't carry enough oxygen to tissues and cells in his body, making his skin appear translucent.
Campbell credits Butler for saving her son's life.
"If it weren’t for Patti pushing as hard as she did, I don’t know that my son would be here," she told the Courier-Post. "That’s the honest-to-God truth."
Campbell hopes to honor Butler by nominating her for the America's Greatest School Nurse award.
Thanks to Butler, Nathan's cancer was detected in time for him to get treatment, and he's now in remission, according to WSB-TV news station. Her quick thinking has also brought attention to a cancer symptom we don't often talk about — and that may be key to saving a life.
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