Ellie White, seven-year-old leukemia patient, to try experimental treatment in Ohio

Seven-year-old Ellie White's family is hoping to travel to Columbus, Ohio for an experimental leukemia treatment. (Photo: Kelly Greig/CTV Montreal)

Seven-year-old Ellie White, whose battle against leukemia inspired thousands of people to get swabbed as bone marrow donors, is turning to a potentially life-saving treatment in Ohio.

The Hampstead, Que. girl is facing her third bout with the disease. White received a bone marrow transplant on February 6. While the treatment initially looked like a success, White relapsed after six months. 

The family received the news on her first day of Grade 2.

"My mother-in-law called me before the first day of school just to make sure I made the back-to-school, starting Grade 2, first day sign that every parent takes with their child proudly in front of the door with their new backpack on and their lunchbox," said Ellie's mother, Amanda Sokoloff White. "I said 'No, I haven't,' and my mother-in-law said 'Why not? The kids like doing it, it's fun.' I realized in that moment I hadn't made it because I was too afraid. Even though it was the day before, I couldn't bring myself to say 'We made it' until we were actually there."

"She was so excited. She worked so hard all summer with tutors to catch up to where she was supposed to be. It was a big deal. She had the uniform and we had the sign, we got in the car and I brought her to school. Later that day we found out she relapsed. We didn't even get a second day."

Now the Whites are preparing Ellie for an experimental transplant procedure only available in Columbus, Ohio. It means the family will have to move to the U.S. for at least three months. Sokoloff White, said they plan to leave Friday, with treatment beginning on Oct. 28.

The treatment alone will cost upwards of $1 million. In less than a week, the family has raised nearly $200,000 to cover the costs. 

White’s story resonated across the city. After CTV aired the initial story in October 2018, 900 potential bone marrow donors signed up in one weekend alone. The normal rate is about 3,000 per year. According to Hema-Quebec, finding a match is extremely rare. 

The Montreal Children’s Hospital where Ellie was a patient performs between 15 and 20 bone marrow transplants every year. 

The family has documented Ellie's battle on social media but Sokoloff White said not everything makes it online.

"The bad has become so bad I don't really think anyone wants to know or see. Trust me on that," she said. "I try to share as much as I can but the bad is really hard. Hard on us and really hard on Ellie."

Still, Sokoloff White says Ellie's spirit is strong.

"She's always been an old soul. She was that three-year-old on daycare on the first day who was crying but took a Kleenex box and handed out Kleenex to all the other crying children in the class when the parents left," she said. "She has been that kind of person and anyone who's ever met her would agree. There's just something about her."