For the last couple years Dale student BayLea Akins struggled with recurrent strep and infections, thrusting her and her parents, Brock and JoEtta, into a whirlwind of physician appointments and emergency room visits.

For the last couple years Dale student BayLea Akins struggled with recurrent strep and infections, thrusting her and her parents, Brock and JoEtta, into a whirlwind of physician appointments and emergency room visits.

The onslaught progressed to the point of seeking the advice of a specialist.

In September the family scheduled an appointment to see an ear, nose and throat doctor in Shawnee.

“BayLea was getting sick often, but not enough for insurance to cover a tonsillectomy,” JoEtta Akins said.

In order for insurance to pay out, she had to be sick at least seven times within six months.

“We kept running one short,” Akins said.

Finally we were able to schedule the procedure for mid-November,” she said.

But before the surgery's arrival, BayLea's episodes got more severe.

“She was sick twice and ended up in the ER,” Akins said.

BayLea's throat was swollen and she was having a hard time breathing, her mother said; she alerted the specialist.

“He told us if she had any more problems, to go straight to Midwest City, where he has a practice — that way he could get to her more quickly if an emergency procedure was needed,” she said.

Soon the next time came, BayLea was vomiting blood and the family rushed for help.

The ER doctor took blood and the wait began.

She said she's been in and out of a lot of hospitals and has never experienced the way that doctor took the time to sit and talk with her.

“She had a lot of empathy for my daughter,” Akins said.

What came next that night was a shock the family had no words for.

The ER doctor had to break the news that BayLea's white blood count was 224,000.

The typical white blood count for a girl her age generally falls between 4,500 and 13,500.

Akins said due to the blood test results, the doctor believed BayLea had Leukemia.

“The whole world stopped,” she said. “We were stunned. It was like we were watching someone else's life fall apart.”

The cancer diagnosis was the worst word Akins said she could hear.

“We've lost lots of people to cancer,” she said.

Akins said as she fell apart, her daughter — though teary-eyed — assured her things would be okay, that she would beat it.

Via ambulance, BayLea immediately made a trip to the Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, greeted by a doctor at the emergency room doors at 1 a.m.

“They were ready for her,” Akins said.

A couple days later, more blood-work confirmed the diagnosis — ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia) — and treatment began.

According to cancer.org, ALL is a cancer that starts from the early (immature) version of white blood cells, called lymphocytes, in the bone marrow; Leukemia cells usually invade the blood fairly quickly and then spread to other parts of the body.

Though a definitive explanation of BayLea's illness had finally been discovered, her battle was only beginning.

“They needed to put a port in her chest to do the chemo treatments,” Akins said. “But when they went in, they discovered BayLea's tonsils had never been the issue; they weren't swollen — it was her lymph nodes in her neck and chest.”

The fear was that, in the state she was in at that point, if she was put under to put in a port she might end up with a collapsed lung, Akins said.

The staff needed to shrink the swelling first.

Akins said an intravenous line was placed in BayLea's arm, but they dragged her back from recovery into surgery again due to fluid around her heart and lungs.

“The cause of her breathing difficulties and irregular heartbeat was all the pressure from the fluid,” she said.

In total, the team pulled 900 ml (about 32 ounces or a quart) of fluid off her heart and lungs,” Akins said.

Even with a reprieve from all that weight, BayLea's heart struggled.

“They were concerned; they said her heart was being lazy,” Akins said, but with heart medication, BayLea began to improve.

It was November at this point and that hospital stay lasted around a month.

Unfortunately, the high dose of meds she received caused steroid-induced diabetes, so then meds for that were prescribed.

Cancer causes blood to be thick, Akins said, so her daughter was placed on blood thinners to avoid the risk of clots, but in December the Akins family were hit with that battle, as well.

“Something kept eating at us — like something wasn't right,” Akins said. “We took her back in and tests showed a clot at the end of her port catheter; it was causing BayLea's arm to swell.”

She said they went to Presbyterian Hospital, where the team there was successful in extracting all of the clot.

“We were ecstatic,” she said.

Even during that scare BayLea continued her chemo treatments.

Soon enough, though, the next hurdle appeared.

“She had been receiving a drug called Methotrexate to protect BayLea's spinal fluid from the cancer,” Akins said. “It had done fine — no bad reaction.”

But by February, that was no longer the case.

“Her speech became slurred and she would get frustrated by her inability to make us understand her, and before long she couldn't walk,” Akins said.

When cancer patients run a fever of 101.4 degrees or higher, they are automatically admitted into the hospital, Akins said. BayLea was taken back in.

Doctors told them her issue might be one of two things:

she could be exhibiting signs of a stroke or may have developed a toxicity from the drug she was getting.

“They treated her as if she had a stroke, in case that was what was happening, but quickly discovered BayLea had indeed developed a toxicity from the medication,” she said.

Around this time, BayLea was having to manage without her older brother, Hunter, 19 — who struggled with leaving his sibling to go into basic training, Akins said.

All month in the hospital, BayLea fought the effects of too much Methotrexate in her system.

She ended up dealing with Mucositis — an extremely painful inflammation and ulceration of the mucous membranes.

“It's like running a wire brush through the lining of your digestive tract,” Akins explained. “Leaving it looking like raw hamburger meat.”

Each time BayLea would receive her treatment of Methotrexate, it would follow with an excruciating bout of mucositis, Akins said.

Morphine was prescribed.

“Watching the staff give her the Methotrexate was probably the most difficult thing for me to allow, knowing what would come afterward,” Akins said.

For three months, every 15 days, her daughter received two three-liter bottles of the light-sensitive, neon green — almost glowing — medicine that would each time shred more of her digestive tract. By the end, Mucositis had ripped completely through her whole system.

“We were looking so forward to the last time she would have to take it, only to find out later she would end up needing it in her spinal fluid again. While before, she had not had a reaction there — but this time the Mucositis came again.

Akins said between being in so much pain and taking morphine her daughter doesn't even remember having a birthday at the end of February.

But, eventually, the now-13-year-old BayLea was again released from the hospital.

With the fallout from some other drugs, clots in her bladder, plus some stays in the pediatric ICU and four days in a mini coma, now BayLea is battling BK virus, due to her compromised immune system.

“Until the bleeding in her bladder and her nausea stops, she can't leave the hospital,” Akins said. “Doctors say if the bleeding doesn't stop by Friday they will have to go in and cauterize some nerve endings,” she said.

Because of the chemo, typical anti-nausea medications can't be given.

“BayLea has felt much better since taking a medical marijuana drug to help with her nausea,” Akins said. “She hasn't eaten anything substantial since mid-June; she's been on intravenous nutrition.”

She said BayLea recently received much needed comfort when her family was allowed to bring a close buddy for a visit. It's always been the two of them.

“BayLea has suffered from severe anxiety even before all this happened, and her biggest comfort is her dog, Blue, who has been by her side since BayLea was 6-years old,” Akins said. “That blue tick coon hound is her best friend; she's the one thing that makes the most sense to BayLea.”

When Hunter got to come home mid-May, Akins said she watched BayLea run — actually run — into his arms.

“I hadn't seen that in a really long time,” she said.

It's the positive things that people often lose focus of, she said.

“You hear about cancer and how bad things are, but it's so comforting when you see the positive side,” she said. “Like seeing how the amazing nurses and doctors at Children's really care about my child like she's their own; they are the best.”

Akins said she was blown away by the OK Kids Korral, built through the Toby Keith Foundation, where her family was allowed to stay during some of BayLea's treatment.

“It was so nice to sleep in a real bed only three blocks from the hospital,” Akins said. “I can't get over how good they were to us; they even feed you.”

The expenses covered were not overlooked by the appreciative family.

Cancer is not cheap, Akins said.

She said she just received a bill that was more than $350,000.

She said the family does have insurance, but it only pays up to 80 percent of the costs incurred.

Family friend Teresa Jordan would love nothing more than to lift some of the heavy burden off the family during this challenging time.

Jordan said her family and the Akins family have been longtime friends — all being former Dale students.

“Our families go back years and years,” she said.

Jordan said BayLea is a sweetheart.

“People adore her and her personality,” she said.

Jordan said she began a crowdfunding page to help lessen her friends' worries.

“JoEtta hasn't been at work since June 23,” she said. “Anything we can do will help them tremendously.”

Akins said her coworkers have been extremely supportive — offering their money and paid leave — but the clock is winding down on her paid time off; she is just about out.

To make a donation online, visit Jordan's fundraising page for BayLea at You Caring, Compassionate Crowdfunding, at youcaring.com. Once on the site, search the keywords, BayLea Akins.

Jordan said the crowdfunding site deposits donations daily into an account at BancFirst of McLoud. Those in the area who wish to go to that bank site can request to make a donation in the family's name — Brock, JoEtta and BayLea Akins.

Jordan said donations also can be made by mail: c/o Teresa Jordan, 17 Russell Road, McLoud OK 74851. Jordan requests checks be made out to BayLea's parents, Brock and/or JoEtta Akins. For more information, call Jordan at (405) 990-9211.