TODAY   |  November 19, 2012

4-time marrow recipient, 10: ‘I didn’t want to die’

After one bone marrow transplant and a relapse, Brennan Simkins’ parents were told they should take him to hospice, but instead, they reached out to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Today, after three more transplants, Simkins is in remission. TODAY’s Jenna Wolfe reports and Marlo Thomas talks about the work St. Jude is doing for children.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> with our special series thanks and giving where we highlight the work of st. jude children's research hospital . celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and "today's" jenna wolfe is here to get us started. jenna, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning to you, matt. a bone marrow transplant is a major ordeal for anybody, so imagine going through four of them in 18 months at 10 years of age. this is a story of a little boy 's will to live and his doctor's refusal to give up.

>> whoa!

>> reporter: brennan simpkins was born to golf. how old were you when you first started playing golf.

>> 2.

>> reporter: come on. the second of three golf-playing brothers with a lifelong love and talent for the sport. when did you know he had something special with regards to golf?

>> 2 years old and had a perfect little golf swing. amazing hand-eye coordination.

>> reporter: four years ago brennan got very sick. his local doctors decided to test his blood.

>> the doctor called at 4:30, and he said go pick up brennan and take him to the hospital immediately. we've made arrangements. there's something in his bloodwork that looks suspicious.

>> reporter: brennan was diagnosed with aml, a severe form of leukemia that's difficult to cure. he underwent a bone marrow transplant . three and a half months later he relapsed.

>> we had doctors to tell to us quit. we had nurse practitioners , experts saying let him go home and do the hospice thing. he won't have all the awful chemicals in his body but to him there's a quality of life in fighting.

>> reporter: st. jude 's children's research hospital was recommended. doctors tailored treatment to brennan and performed a second bone marrow transplant but after a year his cancer came back and a third transplant followed, again, the cancer returned.

>> how scared were you when it was at the worst?

>> very, very scared. i didn't know if tomorrow was going to be my last day or not. every time i closed my eyes, it felt like i was going to die while asleep.

>> reporter: really?

>> yes, that scary.

>> reporter: young brennan and his family had a choice to make.

>> the doctor came to you and asked if you you wanted to get the fourth bone marrow transplant .

>> and i said, yes, i want to get this over with, to get the cancer out.

>> reporter: you didn't have to say yes.

>> i did. i didn't want to die.

>> he was talking about one of the movies that he's watching, a war movie , and he talked about it when you're fighting a war, give up is not an option.

>> reporter: so once again brennan went in for a transplant, and for a while he was staving off the cancer .

>> and i get a phone call , and harris said turner, things are not great. brennan is going into icu. they are putting him down now. he wants to tell you good-bye, and he had a -- they had this oxygen mask that just blows oxygen and forces it into his lungs, and i could hear him going i love you, daddy, through the stuff, and -- and i'm sitting there on the phone with the two other guys right next to him. trying to think, my god, i've got to say good-bye to my son.

>> a turn for the worse but not the end for brennan . now he's been in remission for almost 19 months, with his health getting back up to par, doctors allowed him to return to the sport he loved.

>> now on the champions tour .

>> reporter: here at the tyco golf skills challenge in palm beach , florida, brennan got to watch and go head to head with some of his heros from the pga tour . while trying to beat cancer and hold his own with the pros, brennan imagines a future career off the golf course . how old are you right now?

>> 10.

>> reporter: and what do you want to be when you grow up?

>> a nurse.

>> reporter: you want to be a nurse. did you always want to be a nurse or just since you spent time at st. jude 's.

>> just since i spent time at secondhand jude 's.

>> reporter: brennan looks forward to a long life to match those long drives. this is the longest brennan has gone without a relapse so his doctors are hopeful that the cancer won't come back. he does go back to st. jude 's for regular checkups of the he has more life in him than anybody i know and such an inspiration to be around him, even for a short period of time.

>> a nice story, jenna. thank you very much. marlo thomas is the national outreach director for st. jude children's research hospital . marlo, always nice to see you. good morning.

>> good morning, thanks, matt.

>> can i start with a question and i hope i don't anger some people by asking this, but brennan had four bone marrow transplants in 18 months.

>> yeah.

>> is there a point, and i hate to say this to the family, but where you say enough is enough?

>> you know, how many is too many if it's your child, and we get children all the time that have been in a stage of treatment where others have given up, and there is no standard care, so we create a new care. we create -- we're in the business of making innovative procedures to save children's lives, and one of those procedures is to continue with those bone marrow transplants and at the same time that we're using natural killer cells so it wasn't just the bone marrow transplant .

>> nikkolas robort brennan 's doctor understood this was above and beyond because he asked do you want to go through the fourth lant.

>> and it worked. brennan is now cancer -free. as you heard his father said, the other hospitals said take him to hospice. hospice or continue the bone mayoro transplant. it wasn't just the bone marrow transplants. they were also using the natural killer sells. we all have natural killer cells in our body that kilt infection all the time, but our doctor took out the natural killer cells from his body and engineered them to help kill the leukemia, so it's not just the bone marrow transplant .

>> i mentioned back in the introductions the 50th anniversary of the hospital .

>> yes, yes.

>> one of the most startling statistics of what's happened in those 50 years, when the hospital was begun by your dad.

>> right.

>> cancer childhood career rates 20%.

>> right.

>> what are they today?

>> 80%, and with leukemia it was 4%, and now it's 94% but this is because we'll do these things. we'll keep going where nobody else will go. we're chartering new waters all the time. that's what st. jude 's mission is. that's what we do.

>> what was your dad -- is that what your dad said when he founded the hospital ? is that what his mission statement was?

>> his mission statement was that we will never give up on any child and that he was building a hospital for kids to have an equal chance no matter their race or religion or their ability to pay. they would get an equal chance.

>> we have you heave each year. thanks and giving, explain what that is?

>> a time when you look at your own children and i would like to give thanks to the healthy kids in my life and give to those who are not. gives everybody in america a chance to support the life saving work of st. jude 's.

>> you and i were down there together, an amazing place. happy holidays to you.

>> thank you.

>> and all the folks at secondhand jude 's.