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A Gift of Love, the Gift of Life: An Enduring Sibling Connection

October 31, 2014

A gift of love, the gift of life: an enduring sibling connection.

It's nearly impossible to understand how Traci and Kevin felt when they learned that their son, Nicholas, only 2 ½ years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. Doctors told Traci and Kevin that the best course of treatment for Nicholas was chemotherapy. In Nick's case, doctors recommended a 2 ½ year course of chemotherapy—a harsh protocol with plenty of side effects, but it carried a good chance for a successful outcome. A stem cell transplant was reserved as an option if Nick relapsed.

But when Nick's oncologist learned that Traci was expecting while Nick was still receiving chemotherapy, the oncologist urged her to bank the baby's cord blood as a possible source of stem cells for Nick should he ever need a transplant. The oncologist told Traci about the Sibling Connection, a unique partnership between ViaCord and the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute (CHORI). The Sibling Connection provides ViaCord's cord blood collection and storage for 5 years at no cost to expecting parents who have a child who may be in need of umbilical cord blood stem cell transplantation. Traci contacted ViaCord and enrolled in the Sibling Connection program. When Brayden was born in August 2006, she and Kevin sent the umbilical cord blood off to ViaCord, hoping it would never be needed.

Unfortunately, Nick's leukemia returned when he was just 5 years old. Doctors explained that Nick had two treatment options: endure another year and a half of chemotherapy, or test Brayden's cord blood to learn whether it would be a suitable match. If it was, a cord blood stem cell transplant represented Nick's best treatment option.

While Traci and Kevin waited to learn if Brayden's cord blood would be a suitable match (the chance of a sibling being a perfect match is 25% and the chance of a partial match is another 50% on top of that), Nick's health deteriorated quickly. Doctors immediately put him back on chemotherapy while they considered all treatment options, and Nick's appendix burst.

Because his immune system was suppressed, infection spread quickly throughout Nick's body, perforating some internal organs and leaving him extremely ill and needing intensive care. Days later, Traci and Kevin were bracing for more bad news when Nick's oncologist walked into the ICU. Then they realized he was smiling as he shared unbelievable news: Brayden's cord blood was a perfect match! Now it has been nearly a year since Nick received a cord blood stem cell transplant with cord blood donated from his brother Brayden.

Today, Nick is almost 7 years old and has just started first grade. It's too early to say whether Nick will stay in remission from leukemia, but the outlook is promising for a full recovery. And while Brayden is really too young to understand the gift he gave his brother, Nick recognizes their special connection. After getting his blood drawn recently, Nick asked the technician who's blood it was—his or Brayden's. Over time, it's likely he and his brother will understand that their special bond encompasses even more than being brothers.

To learn more about this special story, listen to Nick's mom, Traci, who recently participated in a special webcast from Perkin Elmer's podcast series, The Better Chronicles.

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