15 years ago, when Radiothon first hit the airwaves, a bone marrow transplant (BMT) was considered a last resort effort to save kids with cancer for whom all treatments had failed. They were harsh, with high risks and dangerous potential side effects. Pediatric BMT specialist, Dr. Victor Lewis used to explain a BMT like this “We take kids to the brink of death in an attempt to save their lives.” Today, thanks to donor support and research at our hospital and others, BMT has come a long way. Not only is it much gentler – some kids don’t even lose their hair these days – BMTs are being used to cure kids with blood and immune disorders like Sickle Cell Anemia and SCID – Severe combined immunodeficiency. SCID is sometimes referred to Bubble Boy disease because it renders children with no immune defense to the point where even a common cold can be fatal.
In 2017, the Immunology, Oncology and BMT teams at the ACH achieved an incredible Canadian first when they transplanted three siblings, all with SCID, within a month of each other.
Wyatt was diagnosed with SCID first, after repeated illnesses. Knowing a BMT was an option to cure Wyatt, his younger brother, Grayson was tested to see if he could be a possible match. The test showed Grayson also had SCID and would require a BMT also. At the same time, mom, Jessica was pregnant with Elliot who they tested in utero and he also had SCID. What’s more is that all three boys had an even more severe form of SCID that also affects the brain, causing developmental delays, which were already presenting in the two older boys.
They were in a race against time to get all three boys transplanted before anymore brain damage occurred and to possibly head off damage altogether for baby Elliot. So the wheels were set in motion at the ACH to find bone marrow donors for the boys – and miraculously three different donors became available almost straight away.
So last year, Wyatt was transplanted in March, Baby Elliot was transplanted in May and Grayson was transplanted in June. The family had to uproot their lives from their home in Edmonton and move to Calgary where they stayed for nine months while the boys were transplanted and recovered. The boys are now post-bone marrow transplant and back at home, and their doctors are thrilled with how well they are doing. Donor-funded technology at the ACH allowed specialists to do frequent and quick tests of their blood to check how well the transplant was “taking.” This information could have potentially saved the boys from needing multiple transplants. The ACH is one of the only centres in Canada with this capability to test transplants this way and is not only life-saving – but makes the process much less stressful for already anxious parents.
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