Never doubt a mother’s instincts.

Daisy Carlos’s toddler Isaac wasn’t acting like himself. Always a big, energetic baby with an appetite to match, he was now feverish, lethargic and uninterested in food. For three weeks, the pediatrician — not affiliated with UC Davis Health — had counseled her that “it was just a virus” and not to worry.

Then Isaac’s tan complexion turned yellow. It was the last straw. Daisy took him to a nurse practitioner she knew, explained her concerns and demanded a blood test.

“The nurse practitioner said, ‘Of course, you’re the mom. If you’re saying something’s not right, then by all means, let’s do a test,’” recalls Daisy.

“Go straight to UC Davis Health”

Later that afternoon, Daisy got a call from the nurse practitioner. She had the lab results. She told Daisy “to write the numbers down and go straight to UC Davis Health and nowhere else.”

Because she worked in a clinical setting, Daisy knew as she heard the numbers that they weren’t good. After the call, she looked at her mom and said, “I think Isaac may have leukemia.”

When Daisy and Isaac arrived at the UC Davis Medical Center Emergency Department, and later when they were admitted to the Children’s Hospital, they felt surrounded by highly efficient and encouraging staff — much to Daisy’s relief. But her fears were confirmed. Isaac had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

“I felt numb. My heart dropped to my stomach,” says Daisy.

But then two things happened quickly that gave her faith even in the wake of such shocking news. The first, as she started to cry, was that Isaac grabbed a tissue and wiped her tears.

The second was the doctor’s reassuring and expert presence: Dr. Marcio Malogolowkin, the chief pediatric oncologist/hematologist at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, affectionately known simply as Dr. Marcio.

Her instincts, and their oncologist, never failed them

“He was so caring and understanding, and then he began to calmly explain the next steps,” remembers Daisy. “Somehow, even then, I knew everything would be fine.”

Her intuition would prove right, once again. But “fine” would come only after a long road. Within a few days, Isaac had surgery to implant a chemotherapy port in his chest, and his chemo infusions and blood transfusions began. About a week later he got his first infection, common for leukemia patients because of their compromised immune systems, and it required hospitalization.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of friends, families, our employers or the people at UC Davis. They were like a second family to us.”Daisy, Isaac’s mom

Three hard years with rock-solid support

For three years, Daisy and Isaac made the one-hour drive back and forth from their home in Colusa to Sacramento at least twice a week: for chemo, occasional blood transfusions and infections. Isaac would also have to endure lumbar punctures to determine if the cancer had spread to his cerebrospinal fluid and to administer chemotherapy there as well. Many visits took all day. Often, they lasted overnight. Sometimes he was hospitalized. Meanwhile, Isaac took oral chemo pills daily. To care for Isaac, Daisy needed to take a three-month leave from work.

“It was hard, the first year especially,” says Daisy. “Watching our active, happy little boy so sick that he couldn’t walk, laugh or even talk.” To protect him from infection, he couldn’t go to school and the family minimized outings and having company at their home.

“We couldn’t have done it without the support of friends, families, our employers or the people at UC Davis,” she explains. “They were like a second family to us. Since then, we’ve taken my husband, daughter and my aunt there when serious health needs arose. And we couldn’t have done it without Isaac’s attitude. He was so resilient. He never complained.”

“The little drummer boy”

While his parents were unaccustomed to seeing Isaac so sick, the staff at the hospital enjoyed seeing a child display so much vitality. In the earliest days, Isaac and his mother were so restless waiting for chemo or results that he would drum on his hospital food tray with his utensils.

To channel that endless reservoir of energy, Daisy bought him a drum set — which Isaac played so much that Dr. Marcio and the staff nicknamed him “the little drummer boy.” When he wasn’t drumming, Isaac danced where he sat and rapped. For him, too weak to walk certainly didn’t mean too weak to move.

Even leukemia couldn’t slow him down

After his first year of treatment, Isaac was able to go to preschool, play with other kids and begin sports. Daisy still marvels that Isaac would endure such long days at the hospital yet couldn’t wait to get back for soccer. “I’d say, ‘Are you sure? Do you feel like it?’”

His answer was always: “Yeah, yeah, I want to play!”

On November 19, 2019, two days before his fifth birthday, Isaac was declared in complete remission. Today, Isaac is eight years old, bubbling over with energy, and is an avid football and basketball player. When asked how his friends would describe him, he says without hesitation: “I’m always nice to them and I’m always ready to play with them!”

No one doubts that for a minute.