Canon-McMillan sixth-grader ignores the odds to take control of her cancer
When Savannah Partridge of North Strabane was diagnosed on Jan. 24, 2016, with stage IV osteosarcoma in the bone of the upper right arm, the odds were against her.
Just 8 at the time, she soldiered her way through 29 rounds of chemotherapy and six surgeries, all in 10 months at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Kurt Weiss, a UPMC oncological surgeon who also does osteosarcoma research, performed the most extensive surgery that April by using one of her fibula bones, the thinnest leg bone from knee to ankle, to replace the destroyed humerus bone, which extends from the shoulder to elbow. It represented one of the first bone reassignment surgeries of that kind.
“In simplest terms, her knee is now her shoulder,” said Sharon Partridge, Savannah’s mom.
For nearly all of 2016, Ms. Partridge and Savannah lived at Children’s Hospital in Lawrenceville. Her husband Bill, she said, missed work and Savannah’s brother, Dylan, also was “put through the wringer.”
And assisting Savannah, now 12, through one treatment after another, including the many surgeries, took considerable toll on Ms. Partridge.
“I have been formally diagnosed with [post-traumatic stress disorder] because of this, and I get panic attacks when going back to the hospital for her quarterly scans,” she said. “I don’t do well at scan time, and that’s coming up in two weeks.” That scan earlier this year showed no cancer.
Savannah is one of many children in the Canon-McMillan School District who has been diagnosed with rare cancers.
“The gravity of what this little girl has overcome — a tumor that encased the biceps and triceps and five inches of the radial nerve — were all sacrificed to the tumor,” Ms. Partridge said. “Not only did she have to relearn how to walk after being in a wheelchair for 10 months, but she had to undergo therapy to try to reuse what is left of her arm.”
Dr. Weiss said he became a big fan of Savannah’s, given her unwavering positive attitude and the energy she has devoted to fighting her cancer.
After all the surgeries and bone replacement, doctors told Ms. Partridge that Savannah would have only limited use of the arm — and never be able to play the piano.
Using that as a challenge, Savannah began piano lessons in October, and the teacher said she’s one of best and fastest learners the teacher has ever had,” said Ms. Partridge.
“I really like art, and I like band and music,” Savannah said recently. “I play clarinet and take piano lessons and love to sing. I like drawing, sketching, painting and coloring” — and her mother added, “making a mess.”
There’s been no relapse of cancer for more than two years. Reaching five years is key to being designated as cancer free.
Ms. Partridge said her daughter is nothing short of “a miracle — a gift from God.”
A list of childhood and young-adult cancer cases in southwestern Pennsylvania
Childhood and early adult cancers in Washington, Greene, Fayette and Westmoreland counties that the Post-Gazette was able to identify by name, with some names not published at the request of cancer victims or families. Included are the date of diagnosis for surviving patients or the date of death.
Canon-McMillan School District
Curtis Valent, 23, Ewing sarcoma, died Jan. 2, 2011
Alyssa Chambers, 28, Ewing sarcoma, diagnosed late 2008
Kyle Deliere, 27, Ewing sarcoma, died Nov. 15, 2013
Luke Blanock, 19, Ewing sarcoma, died Aug. 7, 2016
David Cobb, 38, Ewing sarcoma, diagnosed June 26, 2018
Mitchell Barton, 21, Ewing sarcoma, diagnosed Dec. 27, 2018
Savannah Partridge, 12, osteosarcoma, diagnosed January 2016
15-year-old girl, osterosarcoma, diagnosed August 2016
Jamie Rush, 15, liposarcoma, diagnosed Nov. 23, 2015
Gregory Lomax, 10, Wilms tumor, diagnosed Oct. 26, 2015
Avery Kazakewicz, 10, liver cancer, diagnosed June 12, 2015
Pirlo Garcia, 2, leukemia, diagnosed April 30, 2018
7-year-old girl, leukemia, diagnosed in 2015
2-year-old, rhabdomyosarcoma, diagnosed 2019
3-year-old, neuroblastoma, diagnosed 2019
14-year-old, astrocytoma, died Feb. 21, 2019
Garrett Woznichak, 21, leukemia, diagnosed January 2019
Fort Cherry School District
Nicole Stewart, 19, Hodgkin lymphoma, diagnosed Jan. 28, 2017
Grace Lipscomb, 19, Hodgkin lymphoma, diagnosed May 2017
Catherine Samstag, 21, thyroid and lymph-node cancer, diagnosed 2016
Riley Karn, 21, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, diagnosed 2012
Near the Fort Cherry border
29-year-old, Hodgkin lymphoma, (Burgettstown Area School District), diagnosis before 2015
5-year-old girl, (Burgettstown Area School District), brain cancer, diagnosed 2015
19-year-old, (Sturgeon, Allegheny County), brain cancer, died March 2018
Bentworth School District
Aidan Knox, 16, Ewing sarcoma, diagnosed Sept. 21, 2012
Bethlehem-Center School District
Twelve student cancers in past decade. Names unknown.
West Greene School District
Tavion Terry, 7, diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) brain cancer, died April 22, 2017
13-year-old boy, DIPG brain cancer, died May 24, 2015
13-year-old girl, Wilms tumor, died Sept. 2, 2018
Jefferson-Morgan School District
Colby Simkovic, 17, nongerminomatous germ cell tumor, diagnosed 2010
Four student cancers in nine years, names unknown but number confirmed by District Superintendent Joseph Orr.
Carmichaels Area School District
Braedyn Wasko, 12, Ewing sarcoma, diagnosed August 2016
Preschool-age female, leukemia, diagnosed October 2016
Southeastern Greene School District
Elissa Spiker St. Clair, 30, Ewing sarcoma, died September 2015
Peyton Ponzoo, 10, Burkitt’s lymphoma, diagnosis, July 29, 2017
Westmoreland County Ewing sarcoma
Kevin Bartolomucci, 32, Greensburg, diagnosed 2010
Casey Jackson, 21, Belle Vernon, died Sept. 4, 2012
Brady Hunker, 17, Mount Pleasant, diagnosed July 2016
Magdalena Elder, 11, Ligonier, died Feb. 22, 2012
10 other Ewing sarcoma cases since 2011
Fayette County Ewing sarcoma
Joshua Potter, 21, Perryopolis, died May 18, 2016
25-year-old man, Connellsville, died Nov. 19, 2015
20-year-old man, Uniontown, diagnosed in 2013
10-year-old girl, Fayette City, diagnosed in 2010