A FAMILY DISCOVERS THAT A BABY IS ON ITS WAY WHEN THEY ALSO LEARN THE HEARTBREAKING NEWS THAT THEIR TWO-YEAR OLD BOY HAS A LIFE-THREATENING DISEASE. THEY FIND A SOLUTION THROUGH THE CRYOPRESERVATION OF THEIR NEWBORN’S UMBILICAL CORD BLOOD.
By Nancy Abramson
Thankfully, it’s unimaginable for most of us to receive a curse simultaneously with the blessing to remedy it, the mix of emotions, and the roller coaster ride it entails. Meet the Hendersons.
In the span of a month, Julie and Jonathan Henderson first found out the incredible news that Julie was pregnant and then the devastating news that their two year old son, Nicolas had T-cell lymphoma. The ensuing seven months were a surreal combination of excitement and preparations for the arrival of their baby together with a seemingly endless string of doctors’ visits, hospital stays, and chemotherapy for Nicolas. “The treatment was traumatic for Nicolas and, truthfully, for all of us,” explains Julie.
Through the grueling months of Nicolas’ chemotherapy, the Hendersons kept in the back of their minds the advice of their doctor who had suggested that they save their newborn baby’s umbilical cord blood in the event that the chemotherapy failed, which was an inconceivable outcome for them. If a transplant was needed, a test would be performed to see if the baby’s blood was suitable for the transplant. If the boys were a match, the doctors could give Nicolas a transplant using the stem cells from the baby’s umbilical cord blood. They said this would be a better option than a bone marrow transplant because cord blood transplants had a higher success rate.
Nicolas’ chemotherapy was not successful. Sam Sharf, the transplant coordinator at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida where Nicolas was referred to for the transplant, had emphasized storing the umbilical cord blood only at an institution approved by the Foundation for the Accreditation for Cellular Therapy (FACT), which led the Hendersons to use Cryo-Cell International, the first private FACT accredited cord blood bank, which was coincidentally in Florida.
Seven months after Nicolas’ diagnosis, his baby brother was born. The Hendersons named the baby Nathaniel, because, as Jonathan Henderson says, “the name means given by G-d.” In what was a painless and simple process for Julie and the baby, the doctor collected a significant amount of blood from Nathaniel’s umbilical cord and sent it directly to Cryo-Cell for processing, testing and storing. It would take two weeks to find out if Nathaniel was a match.
“Unbelievable” is how Julie describes her emotions that day. “During Nathaniel’s birth, I saw the medical staff remove the bag of cord blood. I remember looking at that bag and thinking ‘there is my son’s life.’ I felt a miracle in the making… and it was wonderful.”
The transplant was done two months after Nathaniel’s birth. Nicolas first had to undergo radiation and chemotherapy to destroy the cancerous cells and make room for Nathaniel’s good cells. The transplant itself was very much like a blood transfusion and it only took a few minutes. The Hendersons celebrated by shooting silly string in the hospital room and at the nurses.
After the transplant, there were some real ups and downs. Nicolas began feeling sick from the heavy regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. But just shy of two weeks after the transplant, Nicolas started showing signs of engraftment, which means that Nathaniel’s transplanted stem cells were accepted by Nicolas, and his white cell count started doubling. Twenty-four days after the transplant, Nicolas was discharged.
Today Nicolas is a happy, energetic fifteen-year-old whose cancer is gone owing to the transplant of his baby brother’s cord blood stem cells over ten years ago. The Hendersons are very open with Nicholas about his cancer and Nathaniel’s role in his health.
“We have many friends who are pregnant or have had babies recently, and we have been telling them about all the benefits of banking umbilical cord blood,” reports Jonathan. “Even without a family history of illness, we recommend it. No one in our family had a history of childhood cancer or any other types of childhood illnesses. If it were not for the option of reliable cord blood stem cell banking, we might not be able to tell this story today.”