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Cancer claims pioneering patient

Kelley Mitchell, 16, had helped other young sufferers cope with cancer treatments.

By LINDA GIBSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 2, 2000


TAMPA -- Kelley Mitchell, the first cancer patient to try an experimental treatment involving a naturally occuring protein called angiostatin, died Friday afternoon in her home at Fish Hawk Ranch subdivision near Riverview. She was 16.

Since age 11, Kelley had been diagnosed three times with a type of bone cancer called Ewing sarcoma, once with lymphoma and once with thyroid cancer. She endured chemotherapy, radiation, a bone marrow transplant and a cocktail of experimental drugs intended to stimulate the production of angiostatin.

Her doctors, pediatric oncologist Chris Rossbach of All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg and orthopaedic surgeon Arthur Walling of Tampa, often asked Kelley to speak to other young cancer patients facing the treatments she had undergone, said her mother, Lee Ann Mitchell.

Kelley always told the patients, "You can do this," said Mitchell.

When her cancer was first diagnosed, Kelley made a list of the things she most wanted to do in life: go to summer camp and then sixth grade, attend a homecoming dance and her prom in high school, learn to drive and go to Hawaii. She achieved all but one before she died, even though each recurrence of the disease shrank her options.

She had to give up her dream at age 11 of becoming a dancer because the disease and the treatments left her bones too brittle.

In August 1998, she had to leave her friends in Brandon just as they were all about to move on to Bloomingdale High School. She no longer could climb the stairs to her second-floor bedroom, so the family moved to a single-story house near Durant High School.

She spent the last four months of her life bedridden, planning her funeral, readying goodbye gifts for friends and family and helping choose pictures and music for a video of her life to show at her funeral.

About 10 days ago, she told her family she was tired of fighting the disease. "She said, "I'm ready,"' said her godmother, Rosalee Roberts.

On Thursday, Kelley lost consciousness after suffering an hour-long seizure, possibly caused by the huge amount of morphine she needed to control her pain, said her mother. Friday morning, her mother, her father, Donnie Mitchell, and her 13-year-old brother Ryan gathered in her room.

"I got up on the bed with her. Donnie was kneeling by the bed. We were stroking her arms, telling her it was time," said Lee Ann Mitchell. Kelley died at 1 p.m.

Research by Dr. Judah Folkman of Harvard showed that cancer tumors in mice shrank dramatically after they were treated with angiostatin, which appeared to cut off the tumors' blood supply.

Last year, Rossbach treated Kelley with a drug cocktail of urokinase and captopril, a combination intended to stimulate the production of angiostatin. Both are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for other purposes, but their usefulness in treating cancer was unknown.

Kelley's tumor disappeared after the drug-cocktail treatments. The cancer reappeared, however, in February.

Visitation is to be Monday, July 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Serenity Meadows Funeral Home in Brandon. Funeral services are planned for Wednesday at Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon.

-- Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or at gibson@sptimes.com.

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