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Baby Hailey Fights Leukemia with Cord Blood Stem Cells

By Tom Kisken, Ventura County Star, May 5, 2007

Many people have faced peril at some point in their lives, but 11-month old Hailey has already faced more than most people have in their entire lives. More is on the way.

Hailey has a propensity to snore softly when she sleeps. She has two teeth and blue eyes. But since she was three months old, the Simi Valley twin has also been on chemotherapy. Yet, the insistent form of leukemia she suffers from has not stopped.

But help is on the way. At the Children's Hospital Los Angeles, Hailey will get a stem cell transplant later this month. It is all thanks to an anonymous donor's umbilical cord blood. The treatment will give her an opportunity to win her fight against leukemia. The risks are high, but the risk of not doing anything at all is higher: without treatment the leukemia will be fatal.

"She's a pretty tough little girl," said Hailey's mother, Maria , biting off the words as she tried to explain how the family is managing. "Just don't have a choice. Just doing it. Just believe she'll be OK."

Maria and Rick had a difficult time growing their family. They have a 21-year-old daughter named Heather, but nine miscarriages followed her birth. Thus, Hailey's story has been dissimilar from the start. She was born along with her twin brother Ryan, from a surrogate who carried the embryos that produced the twins.

Ryan was born healthy, but at 3 months old, Hailey began to develop problems. She sustained a high fever that would not subside, and she began to vomit. She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia after being rushed by ambulance to Children's Hospital one day.

The disease makes some of the body's white blood cells malignant, spurring them to grow uncontrollably.

"They oversuppress the other blood cells. They crowd them out," said Dr. Neena Kapoor, director of the clinical bone marrow transplant program at Children’s Hospital. "It's like a wild weed. You have to take them out to allow the normal cells to grow."

A genetically compatible donor for a bone marrow transplant could not be found. Not even her twin brother Ryan was close enough genetically. However, four out of five possible characteristics were matched for cord blood through the national registry. It wasn't ideal, but would be usable in treatment.

"They're telling us that with cord blood, you don't need a perfect match," Maria said. "They can't keep searching. She doesn't have time."

She will be admitted to the hospital on May 21. Scans of the brain, heart, and body; plus a bone marrow biopsy are being performed as pre-transplant procedures.

She will be dosed with a nearly lethal treatment of chemotherapy after she is isolated in a sterile and sanitized area. All the diseased blood cells should be killed by the treatment. Following chemo, her body should be able to get rid of the leukemia and create new healthy blood cells by utilizing the stem cells from the donated cord blood which will be transplanted into her body.

An elevated risk of damage to the kidney's or live comes alone with the chemotherapy treatment. But since her immune system will essentially be non-existent, the risk of infection is even more of a concern.

"They wipe you out completely," said Maria. "That's why it's so dangerous."

Hailey's body could also reject the cells, or the cells themselves could reject their new environment. The leukemia could also return.

There is a chance that when Hailey is an adult, she might not be able to have children. And her growth will surely be stunted. She will also need transfusions and her blood type will change from O negative to B positive.

The family is taking things slowly and prays for the treatment to be a success.

"You just remember to breathe," said older sister Heather.

Maria thinks about the future and what it will be like when Hailey come home after the treatment. She is appreciative of the support the family has received from the local community and organizations like the LightHouse Christian Fellowship in Newbury Park and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

"I'll be glad when it's done and she can just do normal things and play with her brother," she said.


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