Our Patients:

Avery Hall


Sitting next to her son and rising star, Avery (aka  VERIFYD), his mom and biggest fan, Elizabeth, shared her excitement over his upcoming return to the stage. “The last 5 years have been a roller coaster,” she said.  “Music has been his medicine, as much or more than all the chemo he has had. I’m hoping this is the beginning of the fresh start he deserves,” said Elizabeth.

Sharing how it all began, Avery (now 17 years old) said, “I thought I just had a bad cold.” “I get dehydrated pretty easily and I was having some headaches, some back pain and cold symptoms. I stopped going to school for a few days, and just figured I would get better,” Avery said.

“It was April of 2019,” said Elizabeth. “Avery gets dehydrated easily, so the fever, headache and back pain were all flags to get him to the pediatrician.” “The pediatrician recommended we take him to the emergency room for some IV fluids, so that’s exactly what we did. We got in the car and came to SSM Health Cardinal Glennon,” Elizabeth said. “When his blood counts came back, his white blood cell count was essentially non-existent. Having come from a pharmacy technician background, I knew enough to suspect cancer as a possible diagnosis. The doctors in the emergency room told me they didn’t suspect cancer, but that they wanted to admit him for further workup,” Elizabeth said.

“I felt like a pin cushion,” Avery said. I had never had so many blood samples taken in my life. Every test kept coming back negative, and they didn’t know why my white cells were so low. They ruled out things like mono, lyme disease, parvo, AIDS. I had doctors from Infectious Disease looking at me, running all kinds of tests, and by the 6th day, we had a visit from this doctor, Dr. Bhatla. At the time, I didn’t realize I would be seeing so much of her over the next several years,” said Avery.

“On day 6 of our admission, April, 24, Dr. Bhatla suggested Avery have a bone marrow biopsy to take a look at his white blood cells and his blood-making factory,” said Elizabeth. “The results came back the next day on April 25 and confirmed that he had AML – Acute Myelocytic Leukemia.”

“When they told me, I didn’t really understand how much my life would change,” recalled Avery. “Day 1 was like grief and sadness. Day 2, my mom and I were ready to fight. We got admitted to the inpatient cancer unit on 4 North. I got my central line placed and started chemotherapy.”

When asked about his treatments, Avery admits, “It was a lot. I was so nauseous all the time and I was in the hospital more than I was home. For 6 months, I was only out of the hospital for 3-7 days out of every month. Luckily, I could do school virtually, and I just had the attitude that this was something I had to push through and do,” Avery said.

“The plan was for 6 rounds total of chemotherapy and he followed the playbook just right, going into remission right away after the first month,” Elizabeth said. “During the last round of therapy in August, we had a crisis. Shortness of breath and trouble breathing led to EKG’s, echocardiograms, all kinds of labs and x-rays. It was initially thought that he might be having a reaction to one of his chemotherapy agents, but all things coming back showed that he was in heart failure,” Elizabeth said. “I remember thinking I was going to die in the hospital,” Avery said. “I woke up in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, with all new faces staring at me. “I was only there a few days, but I’ll probably be on my heart medicine for LIFE,” said Avery.

Avery was discharged on September 6 and was out just in time for his 13th birthday. He remained in remission for 3 years, and during that time, he found himself getting serious about music. “I dabbled in rap here and there before I was diagnosed, but after beating cancer, I found myself needing an outlet to express myself and my feelings,” Avery said. “I had done what I needed to do to beat cancer, and writing songs became my therapy. From the time I finished treatment in 2019 through early 2022, I was figuring out my sound and my style. I had regular follow up visits at The Costas Center and I pretty much thought I would be going to school and working like a normal teenager, doing as much with my music as I could.

In January 2023, Avery came down with a case of strep throat. “I remember it like it was yesterday because I was having anxiety about his diagnosis anniversary coming up,” Elizabeth said. “I was going to therapy and having frequent waves of depression and anxiety. “I took him to get a shot of penicillin because we were going on a small trip and I wanted something that would work on him quickly to feel better,” Elizabeth said. “He didn’t improve at all after 24 hours so I headed back to the emergency room with him, trying not to let my mom nerves get the best of me. I should’ve known when the nurse placed us in the exact same room we had been in where we first heard the word ‘cancer’, that this wasn’t going to be a good outcome. The nurse drew his labs and the results were taking far too long. I knew in my gut that something was wrong. When the resident doctor told me next that Dr. Ferguson was coming to talk to me, I knew the cancer was back,” said Elizabeth.

“Dr. Bhatla said I needed another biopsy to confirm. I got admitted to 4 North, had the biopsy, and the results came back with me having MDS (myelpdysplastic syndrome). It was essentially a relapse of my leukemia and she told my mom and I that I would need a bone marrow transplant,” Avery said. “I had two rounds of chemotherapy, and then I got a small break before I had to get admitted for transplant in June.”

When asked to describe his experience physically and mentally through transplant, Avery said, “it was definitely harder than my first time through treatment.” “I was more isolated back in the transplant unit and I couldn’t be as mobile because I was attached to more pumps. The drugs hit me harder, so the nausea, vomiting and diarrhea were worse, and the food restrictions with the neutropenic diet took some getting used to, for sure,” Avery said.

“Dr. Bhatla and the team had to work around Avery’s existing heart function to plan the drugs for his transplant prep. After about 10 days of chemotherapy, his stem cell transplant day was June 30, 2023. His donor cells were flown in from Germany,” Elizabeth said. “They were a 9 out of 10 match for Avery and he engrafted pretty quickly from what I recall,” said Elizabeth. “When your kid is so sick, you are grateful for the big stuff, of course. But you’re also grateful for the support stuff, too like the fact that he was able to create his own music studio inside his transplant room. Had he not had that outlet, I think we both would’ve had more PTSD that we already have, for sure,” Elizabeth said. “We were grateful for things like that, and things like our awesome social worker, the Ronald McDonald family room, our consistent nurses, visits from Carrie the Music Therapist, and especially Sylvia, the dietician, who fought for the extra snacks and meals once Avery had an appetite,” Elizabeth laughed.

“I was angry when I relapsed,” Avery admits. “I was angry because I had done the work I needed to do the first time. I was angry because I wanted to close the door on that chapter in my life. I was also sad, but didn’t want to appear weak, so music became my therapy during transplant to express my aggressive sadness. I didn’t want to do things that I couldn’t take back. I knew I couldn’t get ‘stuck’ in a deep, dark place. I also knew that my music could possibly inspire or motivate others going through a hard time. I was either going to go out trying to establish my legacy or come out on top and continue to establish my legacy.’

On August 3, 2023, Avery walked out of the transplant unit, rapping to his own music. “I actually broke the bell when I rang it,” laughed Avery.

Nearly six months post-transplant, Avery is thriving and cautiously optimistic for what the rest of 2024 holds. “He truly handles everything with so much grace,” says Elizabeth. “He takes roughly 10 medications each day, his central line is coming out soon and he manages his isolation restrictions and the adaptations he’s had to make without complaint. He’s a junior at McKinley CLA attending school virtually for the rest of the semester and is looking forward to return to school in person for his senior year,” said Elizabeth. “Cancer is a nightmare that no one wants to see their child go through and I hate that Avery had to go through it. But what I AM thankful for is the time that it gave me with my son. We made the best of a terrible situation and the experience solidified an incredible bond that we already had together.”

“My first performance back on stage is February 24! I haven’t performed for the public in almost a year. It’s been so long, and I’m ready,” Avery said. “I’m using my experience with cancer to push me further and set me up for success. I look forward to booking more shows, working and doing what I need to do to build my own empire and contribute to society. Cancer may have slowed me down for a little while, but watch out…..I’m back.”

Follow Avery on Instagram: @verifyd314