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South Carolina family discovers 13-year-old with COVID-19 also has leukemia

Ariel Griffith is in intensive care and fighting for her life.
/ Source: TODAY

When Ariel Griffith, a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina teenager, had trouble catching her breath, she was treated at Grand Strand Medical Center for COVID-19, pneumonia and sepsis.

Doctors soon delivered even more devastating news to Griffith's family. The eighth grade honors student, who recently made her school basketball team, also has leukemia.

Griffith, 13, who is a student at Ocean Bay Middle School, is now hooked up to a ventilator and feeding tube at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

Her stepfather tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 1. Griffith initially tested negative, according to her mother, Lauren Hocin.

That changed a few days later.

Ariel Griffith in the ICU.
Ariel Griffith in the ICU.Lauren Hocin

“We started feeling bad on Dec. 5. By Tuesday, she was vomiting and throwing up. We know he was positive so we assumed we were too,” Hocin told TODAY Health. “But I noticed when I went to wake her, her face looked swollen. It was in her lymph node area. I said, ‘That doesn’t look right.’ Ariel said she had noticed it but was afraid to tell anyone. It had been like that for weeks.”

A few days later, Griffith visited a doctor and her family was told she has leukemia.

“I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that doctor,” Hocin said. “Instead of saying your lymph nodes are swollen because of coronavirus, she insisted on a blood test. It came back that her white blood cell count was very low along with platelets and she was sent to the emergency room.”

Griffith started chemotherapy last Friday. While the last few days have been a nightmare for the family, Hocin said she is encouraged by improvements her daughter is making. She said the teenager's fever broke and her blood is "looking better."

"This is breeding an even bigger passion in me to help other moms going through the same thing."

"Ariel is doing OK. Is she fighting for her life? Yes. She’s still on the ventilator and they have added a feeding tube which she is responding well to. Her lungs aren’t strong enough to breathe on her own, they tried to wean off some of the meds to see how she did and she did not respond well so she’s right back on the meds to be completely asleep," Hocin wrote in an update on a GoFundMe page for the family. "However! This just means she needs more time for her lungs to heal and that’s ok. She has GOT to beat COVID so she can beat leukemia."

Hocin told TODAY she was inspired to share her daughter’s story after she read the story of another mother who supported her child through cancer a few months ago. She said that while her daughter is battling COVID-19, she is thankful she is also being given chemotherapy.

Ariel Griffith and her mother, Lauren Hocin.
Ariel Griffith and her mother, Lauren Hocin.Lauren Hocin

"It has been a roller coaster to say the least but to see she has some improvements. It is a mother's dream. She is on a ventilator. A machine is breathing for her. They tried to wake her up the other day and she didn’t handle it well. She had coughing fits,” she said. “Seeing she is improving means the world to me."

Hocin said she is coping by celebrating the “small miracles.” On Sunday, she received the news that the leukemia was not present in her daughter’s spine.

“Ariel’s story is going to help other people. We are in pieces over the support we have gotten. Our neighbors are delivering things every day. I can’t even begin to describe the amount of support we have had,” Hocin said. “I just can't tell you what it will create in me to do with others. This is breeding an even bigger passion in me to help other moms going through the same thing.