Newborn Gives Older Brother a Chance for a New Life
By Mark Baker, icWales, October 7, 2007
A child will undergo groundbreaking stem cell surgery thanks to a gift of life, courtesy of his newborn baby brother Rhys. Weighing in at a healthy 6 lbs and 6 ozs, Rhys was born last Sunday to his proud parents Julian Emms and his fiancée Joanna Stanley.
Michael, who is Rhys 20-year-old brother is suffering from motor neuron disease. Rhys umbilical cord stem cells will be used to treat and hopefully cure him of his condition.
Working at a DIY warehouse and an active young man who loved to play football only a year ago, Michael's life changed dramatically last June. Specialists diagnosed him with motor neuron disease when a crippling pain spread through his body forcing him to visit the hospital.
Breaking down the nerve cells which control muscle activity, motor neuron disease affects many such as wheelchair-bound Professor Stephen Hawkings. Afflicted individuals lose mobility due to muscle wasting, and eventually have difficulty swallowing, breathing, and speaking.
Michael is likely to die before his 21st birthday next March if he does not receive treatment. He is currently the youngest person in Britain to be diagnosed with the condition.
In an attempt to cure his condition, he will be traveling to Belize, in Central America to undergo revolutionary stem cell treatment. According to experts, the muscle wastage that Michael has suffered since he was diagnosed could potentially be reversed with the used of the umbilical cord blood stem cells taken from his newborn brother Rhys.
Moments after Rhys was born, the blood from his umbilical cord was extracted and stored before the cord was discarded.
The cells will be implanted into Michael's spinal cord in Belize. Currently, they are frozen and in transport to Central America.
The final push for fundraising is now being completed so the family can pay for the potentially life saving journey.
Dad Julian, 42, of Ebbw Vale, Blaenau Gwent, said: “We have already been told that Rhys’ stem cells are the perfect match so we hope this operation will be successful. We have so far raised more than £20,000 and we hope Michael will begin his treatment in November."
“It would be just amazing if little Rhys saved Michael. We are all hoping Rhys will be our miracle baby. The prospect of the treatment has cheered Michael up no end. It’s something for him to focus on, a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Michael has promised himself that he will beat his condition.
Today he lives with his mother Teresa, 41, and he is virtually housebound.
Since doctors are split on the effectiveness of stem cells at repairing sufferers’ damaged cells and tissues, the treatment has yet to be approved in the UK. This has forced Michael to seek treatment in Central America.
Embryonic stem cells have been condemned by church groups and pro-life campaigners since harvesting the cells destroyed human embryos. Michaels treatment involves non-embryonic stem cells and harvesting the adult stem cells from the umbilical cord present no risk whatsoever to the baby or the mother.
Julian, who is a nurse, said: "Michael will spend two weeks there, where he will have the cells transplanted into his body."
“He will then come back and will undergo another bout of treatment. If successful, his condition may then start to go into reverse.”
Joanna realized that Michael’s only chance for survival could be cord blood stem cells. She was six weeks pregnant at the time when she read about the potentially life saving treatment on the internet.
Julian said: “We started researching treatments as it seems there was very little doctors here could do. We quickly came across this stem cell therapy. With Joanna being pregnant it seemed like fate."
“Michael’s best chance is to have cells from a donor who is a close genetic match. The best he is going to get is from his brother."
“Michael was devastated when he was told he had motor neuron disease. It has taken its toll on him as he used to be a fit, active young lad."
“But the birth of Rhys has uplifted him and he is hopeful he can be cured. We know it’s a long shot and we are all hoping against hope.”
Michael said: “Everyone around me has been so supportive. I feel so grateful. I look at other 20-year-old lads, just normal lads playing footie and I feel jealous."
“They don’t know how lucky they are. I would do anything just to be normal again.”