Boy, 4, who was diagnosed with autism and cancer within months of each other beats odds

Justin Chan

A 4-year-old boy who was diagnosed with autism and cancer within three months has impressively beaten the odds, the Cleveland Clinic recently announced in a news release. 

Two years ago, Simon McKenzie reportedly became reserved, raising concerns from his grandparents. 

"I think you need to have him evaluated for autism," the child's grandmother recalled telling his parents, Mark McKenzie and Autumn Ziemba.

Upon taking their son to a pediatrician, a pediatric neurologist and the Cleveland Clinic, the parents learned that Simon, in fact, had autism. 

"It was devastating; immediately, the image you have of your child's life has changed," Ziemba said. "Every child on the (autism) spectrum is different, and you start wondering, 'Will he be high-functioning or low-functioning? Will he be able to make friends? Get a job? What will be his quality of life?'"

In an effort to help their child, Ziemba and her husband purportedly enrolled him in a program at a school that teaches communication and socialization skills. Three months later, however, they received troubling news. Doctors had discovered that Simon also had B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia — a common type of cancer among children that starts in the bone marrow. 

"I remember thinking, 'This is so unfair; he was just diagnosed with autism,'" his mother said. "How can one little kid have to fight both of these? He wasn't even 3 years old."

As a result of his diagnosis, Simon had two surgeries — one for an emergency blood transfusion and another to insert a chemotherapy port. He also underwent several rounds of chemotherapy, the clinic notes. 

To the surprise of both his parents and doctors, the child's cancer went into remission in just 28 days. For the past couple of years, he has been cancer-free. He has also made significant progress at his school, his mother said. 

"The progress he's made is astounding," Ziemba said. "We still have a long way to go, but we're all just amazed by him."

Ultimately, Simon's mother said she just wants her son to live a fulfilling life. 

"Our goal is for Simon to live his best life, and be his best self," she said. "And every milestone he achieves is such a wonderful gift – one that he has worked so hard to make happen. We’'e so proud of him – actually, pride doesn't cover it – we’re just in awe."