Experimental Therapy for Brain Injury

"You never know what can happen, so that's why I tell mothers to save every child's cord blood."
- Cathy Pell

The power of a mother’s love

Catherine Pell is a mother who won't take no for an answer, especially when it comes to Abby, the youngest of her five children with husband, William. Now 7 years old, Abby was born with anoxic brain injury, a condition caused by a lack of oxygen to her brain during birth.

Abby was born with anoxic brain injuryAn evaluation at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. when she was 2 months old, revealed moderate to severe brain damage in three out of the four lobes in Abby's brain. Doctors predicted her development would likely be abnormal.

Committed to finding a treatment to help their daughter, the Pell's took a bold step. They were familiar with recent stem cell research, and had banked Abby's cord blood with CBR. All they needed now was a doctor who would use it to treat Abby.

The journey begins

Cathy consulted the neurologists at the Developmental Clinic at Children's Hospital, where Abby was first evaluated. "I asked, begged, and pleaded with them," said Cathy. "I have the cord blood, can't we do something?"

An autologous neurological stem cell infusion had never been performed before, and doctors were unwilling to perform the experimental treatment. Many physicians told the family that trying to repair the damage wouldn't work.

Cathy went to The National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Mayo Clinic but was turned down by both. "I can't understand it," said Cathy. "I could go around the corner and get Botox® injections and liposuction, but I can't get a 20-minute IV given to my daughter with her own stem cells."

An answer for Abby

Unwilling to give up Cathy, contacted Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg at Duke University in North Carolina. She did however, offer the solution they were searching for. "She told me that since we had saved Abby's cord blood and were willing to bring her to North Carolina, that she would do the transfusion," explained Cathy.

The Pell's packed their bags and took young Abby to see Dr. Kurtzberg. Upon Dr. Kurtzberg's request, CBR immediately transferred Abby's stem cells to Duke University. Abby was the first child to undergo the experimental transfusion for her type of brain damage, using her own newborn stem cells, on February 15, 2005.

Abby Today

Doctors cannot guarantee that stem cell transfusions will work. What they do know is that a child’s brain undergoes maximum development during the first two years of life. If the stem cells are going to help, they have the best chance of working when given at a very young age.

Six years after the transplant, William and Cathy are convinced the transplant was the right choice for Abby. "I saw results almost immediately. Just two weeks after the procedure, she really looked at me and smiled; we connected for the first time," said Cathy.

Abby is attending school and continues to make small improvements in multiple areas. She recently began walking, and her progress in this area is expected to improve even more after she recovers from ankle surgery.

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