Fort Worth, Texas,
10:46 AM

One-Two Punch: 8-Month-Old Survives Stroke and Goes on to Beat Cancer

By Ashely Antle 

It’s hard to imagine how a stroke could be a blessing in disguise, but Joseph and Allison Turner believe it was for their son, Owen, when he was just 8 months old.

“The stroke caused all kinds of battles that we’re still battling today, eight years later, but it saved his life,” Turner said.

When Joseph noticed Owen wasn’t moving the right side of his body while playing with his baby on a Sunday morning in January 2014, he and Allison knew something was terribly wrong. In addition to the loss of movement, their otherwise happy and content baby was fussy and irritable. He was suddenly behaving differently than he had been just a few days earlier when Allison took Owen to his pediatrician to check out a few bumps that appeared on the top of his head. Initially thought to be cysts, the doctor scheduled Owen for a return visit the following Monday to have them rechecked. But the changes they saw in Owen that Sunday morning led them to rush to the nearest emergency room in Cleburne, Texas, just one day before their scheduled follow-up appointment with Owen’s pediatrician.

Things moved quickly at the ER. It was apparent to doctors there that Owen’s condition warranted a more specialized level of pediatric care than could be given at their hometown hospital, so doctors called a helicopter ambulance to transport Owen to Cook Children’s Medical Center. Joseph wanted to be at Cook Children’s as soon as the helicopter landed with his son, so he jumped in his truck to make the 30-minute drive to Fort Worth. Allison stayed behind with Owen to travel in the helicopter with him.

As they were waiting for the air transport doctors were simultaneously running a number of tests to try and determine the cause of his stroke and interrupt further damage as quickly as possible. A diagnosis came quickly, and it was beyond belief for Allison—acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a fast-growing blood cancer that worsens quickly if not treated.

“Absolutely not,” Allison said describing her initial reaction. “There must be something else. It can’t be. This is my perfectly healthy baby.”

But Owen was critically ill. Abnormal leukemia cells were quickly building up in his blood and crowding out normal cells, which Allison says thickened his blood and led to the stroke. The bumps that appeared days before turned out to be clusters of leukemia cells sitting on top of his head. Had the stroke not prompted the Turners to take Owen to the ER, doctors told the family he may not have lived to make it to his scheduled doctor’s appointment the next day.

Owen TurnerAllison rode with Owen in the helicopter to Cook Children’s in shock. Their lives had just changed forever, but there was no time to dwell on their disbelief. At Cook Children’s, Owen was immediately admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and met by Kenneth Heym, M.D., a pediatric oncologist and medical director of Cook Children’s oncology program. Dr. Heym wasted no time treating Owen’s cancer. That very Sunday night, the Turner’s baby boy began his first round of chemotherapy.

For the next four months, Cook Children’s was the family’s home while Owen underwent chemotherapy treatment. They left twice, but only to stay a few days just down the road from the hospital at Ronald McDonald House Fort Worth. After completing the intense AML treatment protocol, Owen was discharged from Cook Children’s in May 2014 and returned home for the first time in months.

In a matter of days, Allison and Joseph went from knowing little to nothing about AML to becoming experts on the topic. They credit their relationships with other cancer families at Cook Children’s for learning the ropes. Allison recalls that Cook Children’s chaplains would often stop by for a visit with Owen, and she would sometimes take that opportunity to step out and visit with other moms on the unit.

“Talk to the other cancer families if you're on the cancer floor,” Allison said about the advice she gives to families facing a new cancer diagnosis. “Those people were our family. We still send Christmas cards every year to the families that were inpatient while we were inpatient. They were such a support system. They share in something that nobody else on the outside would ever understand. Meet, find and talk to other cancer moms and cancer families that are going through the same thing.”

Today, 9-year-old Owen is cancer free and loving life, despite having a few lingering issues as a result of the stroke, like weakness on the right side of his body for which he continues weekly therapy. The stroke also led to daily seizures. In 2018, Owen became the first patient at Cook Children’s to undergo a trailblazing endoscopic surgery that disconnects part of his brain to stop seizures.

Even with these challenges, Allison says her son is a happy, easy-going kid looking forward to a future full of possibilities. If Owen has anything to do with it, that future will include lots of golfing and fishing, scoring a few goals for his soccer team, and cheering on Dude Perfect as they attempt their epic stunts.

About AML

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a fast-growing blood cancer that originates in the bone marrow where blood cells are made. It starts with the abnormal growth of cells that form white blood cells, red blood cells or platelets. The abnormal cells end up crowding out normal blood cells, which can lead to infection, anemia and a tendency to bleed easily.

Of the more than 10,000 children diagnosed with cancer each year, nearly one in three cases are a form of leukemia. There are two main types of acute leukemia, with AML being the least common one in children.

Symptoms may be hard to spot. In Owen Turner's case, his symptoms began with bumps on the top of his head and escalated quickly resulting in a stroke. 

Other symptoms may include:

●     Easily tires, is weak or dizzy

●     Pale or ashen skin

●     Shortness of breath, trouble breathing or an unexplained cough

●     A fever or infection that doesn't get better

●     Bleeds or bruises easily, the gums may bleed often when brushing the teeth, recurrent nosebleeds

●     Continual bone or joint pain

●     A swollen belly

●     Swollen lymph nodes on the sides of the neck, underarms or groin area

●     Headaches, seizures, vomiting

●    Non-itchy rashes caused by bleeding under the skin

Acute myeloid leukemia is aggressive. It can move into other parts of the body and, if left untreated, can lead to death within six months or less.

If your child experiences any of the above symptoms, it is wise to talk with your pediatrician about them.

About Cook Children's Hematology and Oncology 

We work every day at Cook Children's Hematology and Oncology Center to bring innovative research, groundbreaking medical treatments and trailblazing clinical trials to children with cancer and blood disorders. It’s our wish to erase cancer and blood disorders one day, and advanced treatment options are bringing us closer to that reality.

Learn more at Cook Children's Hematology-Oncology (