At that point, Dr. Shenoy was leading a 10-center experimental cord blood transplant study, and had received approval to transplant three sickle-cell patients with unrelated (non-sibling) donor cells. Until this point, the preferred source for donor cells had been a patient’s brother or sister. Dr. Shenoy first discussed the possibility of a stem cell transplant with Debbie when Gabby was 3.
“She told us people had been cured from sickle cell with stem cell transplants.”
Dr. Shenoy also described the process – one that would be far from simple.
“They’ve been through their disorder, so they know what they’ve gone through. We explain to them the time period over which these transplant complications can occur, and help them understand what the pluses and minuses of transplant are going to be, and let them think about it.”
With the best chance at a bone marrow transplant off the table, though, Debbie decided to move forward with a cord blood transplant.
“It was the possibility of a cure. I couldn’t NOT do that. I had to give her a chance.”
Gabby spent the entire summer of 2012, from June through August, in the hospital. She received her transplant, then stayed in isolation to protect her weakened immune system. Even when she left the hospital, she couldn’t go home to Cape Girardeau, a three hour drive from St. Louis. She battled challenges inherent to transplant: hypertension, diabetes, and general sadness. But by winter, she was home, and turning a corner.
Children with sickle cell experience pain in extreme temperatures. But in December, she played in the snow for the first time—and didn’t complain of any discomfort. In January, she went back to school. And by summer, all signs of sickle cell disease had vanished.
Debbie continues to marvel at all of the seemingly small changes, “She’s doing things I never thought she’d do. She’s a normal kid. Her meds alone used to be a full time job.
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