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6th Grader Wins Essay Contest, Writes About Power of Adult Stem Cells

By Cecile San Agustin, Catholic News Service, March 20, 2007

Embryonic stem-cell use is morally unacceptable, while adult stem-cell use is acceptable and is saving lives now. The was the messages that was crystal clear after reading 12-year-old Erik’s recent essay on stem cells.

His essay took first place in a writing contest sponsored by the Respect Life Committee at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Sparta. He was writing from personal experience when he wrote, "Adult Stem Cells Saved My Mom's Life".

The outlook appeared to be bleak two years ago when Erik’s mother Hedy was diagnosed with leukemia. However, his mother was healed thanks to an adult stem-cell transplant which Erik chronicles in his essay. Today, Hedy is cancer-free.

When he and his schoolmates were asked to write about the topic, “how could a compassionate Catholic be against embryonic stem-cell research and yet support adult stem-cell research,” Erik knew exactly whet he wanted to write about.

"It was my mom that inspired me to write this essay," he added.

"We were all very touched by his essay. I cried and I knew of his mother's story," said Lucia, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Erik’s school. She is also a member of the Respect Life Committee who conceived the idea for the poster/essay contest.

"With such a complicated topic, he also made it so simple. He made it easy for me to understand using his own personal example," Lucia told The Beacon, newspaper of the Paterson Diocese.

Erik researched the material and described the differences between embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells using scientific facts. He added this information while describing his personal experiences with his mother’s illness. Hedy was familiar with the majority of the subject matter since she worked for a chemist.

The benefits of adult stem cells have already made their mark and his mother is proof. But embryonic stem cells have yet to benefit humanity as Erik points out in his essay.

"It is very touching for me that Erik wrote this," said Hedy. "The whole experience we went through was a learning experience. I was just glad that he learned something."

Erik wanted everyone to know that all the thoughts, prayers, and immense support from everyone was a big part of his mother’s successful treatment – even if it was the actual adult stem cells that saved his mother’s life.

"I was extremely sick and it was a really frightening and trying experience for me and the family," she said.

Hedy was informed that she needed to make final preparations by her doctors when at one point, the leukemia had advanced to frightening levels. She received an incredible amount of support during that time, where she received a healing mass. The overflowing love and support from all who attended the mass made an impact on Erik and his family.

The week following the mass, her doctors informed her that the time was right for an adult stem-cell transplant since she was in remission. She was able to find a match through the National Bone Marrow Registry.

The life saving donor lived in Colorado, and was a 21-year-old man she had never even met.

He had even forgotten he was on the registry," she said. "He signed up for it a few years ago for a friend."

Finding a donor is a miracle in itself, but now that Hedy is completely healed, they feel that the miracle of adult stem cells and prayer are a powerful combination.

The family knows that the future is bright for others will illness, since cord blood stem cells and other sources are now becoming more prominent, and finding a match is becoming easier and in some cases unnecessary.

Erik hopes his essay will help many more people understand embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells.

"I'm just glad I could make other people understand and I hope many more people get the message," said Erik, who is considering becoming a doctor or a writer.


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