Ready to Race

Derek and David Carr grant cancer patient go-kart wish 

The adrenaline rush of high-speed go-kart racing is hard to beat. So when 15-year-old Richie Iest learned Valley Children’s wanted to create that opportunity just for him, he enthusiastically accepted.

“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s really cool!’” Richie said.

He found out how cool.   

When Richie’s family arrived at Valley Children’s Hospital where Richie has been a patient, they were pleasantly surprised. Not only was an empty parking lot transformed into a makeshift race track with three high-performance go-karts, but Richie was also provided a Valley Children’s-branded, all-leather racing suit, helmet, gloves and shoes. The biggest surprise came when he met his two fellow racers.

Professional quarterback and Valley Children’s supporter Derek Carr and his brother, David Carr, a national sports analyst, decked out in the same customized racing suits as Richie, revved their engines. Derek, who credits Valley Children’s with saving the life of his first child and David’s nephew, wanted to grant Richie this special wish.

“Yeah, I was a little shocked – and very lucky!” said Richie, who loves the popular motorsport.

Race against cancer

Flash back a year, Richie began a different race. On Mother’s Day 2015, slight back pain and constipation evolved quickly into an excruciating stomachache and excessive bloating. Instead of preparing for his 4-H entry at the county fair, Richie saw his Fresno pediatrician who immediately referred him to Valley Children’s Hospital Emergency Department for further diagnosis and treatment.

“We just heard the word ‘cancer,’” said Tricia Iest, Richie’s mom. “It seemed so hard to believe.”

Within a day of Richie’s arrival, Valley Children’s team of pediatric specialists obtained a biopsy and pathology results that enabled them to diagnose the teenager with Burkitt’s lymphoma and immediately begin chemotherapy treatment.

Burkitt’s lymphoma is a type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer in the lymphatic system. The cause of the third most common childhood cancer is unclear, but genetics and exposure to viral infections may increase a child’s risk. Cells in the patient’s lymphatic system grow quickly and develop into tumors that can occur in any part of the body. A tumor in the abdomen can sometimes block the bowels, resulting in belly pain, nausea and vomiting.

“Burkitt’s lymphoma tumors can double in size in just 24 hours,” said Dr. Ruetima Titapiwatanakun (“Dr. Ti”), a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Valley Children’s Pediatric Cancer and Blood Diseases Center.

Richie was in good hands. Valley Children’s is the only provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient pediatric cancer and blood diseases services in Central California. As a member of Children’s Oncology Group – the world’s largest organization devoted to childhood cancer research – our Center provides the most advanced therapies and supportive care to help patients overcome the disease and improve their quality of life.

Road to remission

Burkitt’s lymphoma usually responds well to chemotherapy, the use of powerful drugs and medicines to destroy cancer cells. Fortunately, the cancer had not spread to Richie’s bone marrow or spinal fluid, which would have complicated his condition.

As the chemotherapy breaks down the tumor in the abdomen, however, severe kidney failure may occur when treating this particular cancer. This happened to Richie, and he received peritoneal dialysis and required hospitalization at Valley Children’s for about a month.

“This is what we do every day – treat kids with cancer,” said Dr. Faisal Razzaqi, a Valley Children’s pediatric hematologist/oncologist. “This side effect is something we can predict and plan for.”

“Richie was a trooper through it all, so calm,” Richard Iest, Richie’s dad, said. “He told us it was going to be OK.”

Richie’s road to remission was not easy, but victory finally came. “Aug. 12 was our no-mo chemo day,” Tricia said with a smile. “It was the happiest day ever. Richie was cancer-free!”

After Richie completed his cancer treatment, the geography and history enthusiast gradually returned to school and his favorite activities, including working at the large dairy farm his family owns and operates in Madera. “He’d push himself to walk and ride his bike to build back his energy,” Tricia said. “He was go, go, go.”

Compassionate care

In addition to excellent pediatric care, the Iests appreciated the emotional support they received. From loving hugs from Dr. Ti, to encouraging words from child life specialists and chaplains, Tricia said everyone treated Richie like their own child.

“Nurses cried and prayed with us, and doctors gave us hope from the beginning,” Tricia said. “They always made us feel safe and alleviated our fears.”  

One nurse offered unforgettable advice. “She told me she had the same cancer as a kid, and that I had to be strong for Richie,” Tricia said. “I never cried in front of Richie again – until he was cancer-free. I was so thankful she gave me that strength.”

Dr. Michael Allshouse, Valley Children’s medical director, pediatric surgery and trauma, who surgically inserted Richie’s mediport, occasionally popped in on Richie to say hello. “One day he walked in with this cow hat with horns,” Richie said with a laugh, explaining that Dr. Allshouse heard his family runs a dairy. “He was really funny.”

Jackson Standifer, a young Valley Children’s patient who overcame the same type of cancer as Richie’s, also demonstrated his support by visiting Richie. “I saw he got through it,” Richie said. “He looked strong and happy. He gave me hope.”

Last year, Jackson had his own wish granted. The Fresno Grizzlies surprised the dedicated baseball player at Valley Children’s Hospital, signing him to a one-day contract and letting him throw the first pitch of the game.

Crossing the finish line

For Richie, racing head-to-head with the Carrs was priceless. After experiencing the thrill of zipping through corners and around the winding track numerous times, the teenager was declared the winner.

“Derek and David were so nice,” Richie said. “They made me feel special.”

“They were incredibly generous and went out of their way to make this a memorable event for our son,” Richard said.

Today, Richie looks forward to a lifetime of exciting challenges and successes, including following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in the family business. “When you get through something like cancer, anything is possible,” Tricia said.