Every four minutes, one person in the U.S. is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Blood stem cell transplants have become a standard way to treat children with leukemia and other blood disorders, but have been limited for only small children. Now, doctors are saving older children by transplanting not just one but two umbilical cords.
From playing Uno to dancing with her sibling, you would never have guessed that just last year 15-year-old Sabrina Couillard was fighting for her life.
"I was getting really skinny. I was getting bruises everywhere," Sabrina said. She was diagnosed with leukemia.
"I just broke down [and] cried," Sabrina's mom, Marta Gonzalez said.
Her only hope for a cure was a bone marrow transplant, but doctors couldn't find a match from a family member. That's when her doctor, Kamar Godder, turned to an alternative stem cell source: the umbilical cord.
"We knew that when you give it to somebody who is heavier, a heavier child or adult it will not quote unquote take," said Kamar Godder, MD, Pediatric, Hematologist/Oncologist, Miami Children's Hospital.
Sabrina's doctor gave her a double umbilical cord transplant.
"Initially the thought was just to give more of [the] cells," Dr. Godder explained. "Eventually only one will take over, that's the interesting thing."
Dr. Godder says that earlier studies have shown that cell count is the most important factor after degree of match for successful transplant.
It worked for Sabrina, who is now cancer free!
"I'm feeling good," Couillare said. "I just have to keep walking more [and] strengthening my legs."
Doctor Godder says the treatment is proving to be an effective alternative for older children with blood diseases.
There is no added risk to using two umbilical cords. The risks are much the same as you would get with the unrelated cord blood which is the risk of rejection.
Copyright 2015 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.