Windsor toddler with rare leukemia needs stem cell donor

The little girl’s only chance is a stem cell transplant, and no one in her family is a match.

Windsor Star 4 minute read February 4, 2020

Lawrence Hill with his wife Jessica Rivera holds his daughter Savannah Hill, 18 months old as well as their other daughter Isabella, 2.5 years, who knows how to get a smile of her little sister. Savannah needs a stem cell transplant for a rare form of leukemia in London, Ont. Photograph taken on Monday February 3, 2020. Mike Hensen / The London Free Press

From her first breath, Savannah Hill has represented hope against the odds — now her life depends on it.

The 18-month-old Windsor girl is battling a rare, poorly understood and aggressive form of leukemia.

It annihilates the immune system. It attacks blood cells, potentially turning a bump on the head into a fatal brain bleed. When chemotherapy puts it into remission, it comes back with a vengeance.

The little girl’s only chance is a stem cell transplant, and no one in her family is a match. Her parents are hoping there is a willing stranger who is.

Savannah’s dad, Lawrence Hill, said he knows they have a better chance of winning the lottery.

Savannah is kind of an open ground

“You know your chances of actually winning are slim,” said Hill, 36. “Only 50 per cent of people — and I’m quoting from Canadian Blood Services — will be lucky enough to find a match. It’s nerve-racking. It is like playing the lotto to us. It’s a leap of faith, and you just hope that one day it’s you. We’re just hoping for that one person to step forward and say I have this to offer you.”


Hill and his wife-to-be, Jessica Rivera, moved to Windsor in May 2018. Their daughter was born the following month. They gave her the name Savannah, envisioning a sweeping landscape dotted with trees and teeming with life, because it made them think of hope.

“Savannah is kind of an open ground,” said Hill. “The sky is the limit from there. You can build anything and make anything of something that’s non-existent. So I used that as a name that had hope, and had belief that she could create anything of her own without having to follow anybody.”

For the last several months, the family, including Savannah’s two-year-old sister Isabella, has been staying in London, where Savannah is in the hospital.

Their ordeal began when they picked her up at daycare one afternoon and noticed she had some red dots around her lips. They thought she’d been hit in the mouth. Daycare representatives said nothing had happened.

“We didn’t think anything of it,” said Hill. “A month goes by. We’re seeing every week, multiple bruises to the point where she had 30, 40, sometimes 50 little bruises all over her body, and they weren’t going away. They were getting darker. Almost black.”

They took her to the doctor, who did some blood work. The doctor called them back the next morning.


“That phone call flipped our life upside down,” said Hill.

He said with most leukemia cases, when the cancer is put into remission, it stays that way. Savannah’s is different.

“She is currently in remission,” said Hill. “If we were to go home without a transplant, what they’ve seen in the past from the little bit of evidence they do have worldwide, the prognosis is super poor. Cancer ends up infiltrating the bone marrow again. It ends up popping back up and it becomes twice as difficult to put the child in remission a second time around.

“Her chance of survival would be minimal.”

Even a stem cell transplant isn’t a guarantee.

“They can’t confidently say that even the transplant itself would be a cure for her,” said Hill. “It’s just the clearest shot we have to find her a cure.”

For now, he said his daughter is enduring one of the most potent chemotherapies available. Even while suffering through this anguish, she has again given her parents reason to hope.

“She’s a super happy, outgoing, energetic kid,” said Hill. “Huge personality. Lots of humour. She knows how to get you laughing all day. Her response to this as far as her personality goes is identical as her baseline personality at home.

“She makes it super easy for us as parents during the day when we’re at her bedside to just roll with the punches. If she’s smiling and she’s laughing, we realize, why can’t we be like that, too? We don’t need to dwell day by day.” |


Donors wanted

There will be a stem cell registration and blood donor clinic Feb. 8 at Canadian Blood Services on Grand Marais Road East from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Registering, including a cheek swab, takes about 10 minutes.

Stem cell donors must be between the ages of 17 and 35. Anyone who doesn’t meet the criteria can still donate blood.

For more information, check out the Savannah’s Fight Against Leukemia Facebook page or email



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