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Young sickle cell patient gets cord blood First transplant of its kind carries risks of infection


ATLANTA -- Medical history unfolded at Egleston Children's Hospital on Friday at noon with the world's first umbilical cord blood transplant for sickle cell anemia.

As a syringe of dark red blood plunged into the intravenous line of Keone Penn, relatives and friends bowed their heads in prayer and talked of miracles, cures and gratitude.

They also gently told the center of attention to wake up.

"Hey, Keone. God's working it out just like we said. Wake up and see your miracle happening," said Beverly Kennedy, a close friend of Leslie Penn, Keone's mother.

Keone, 12, was sleepy from 10 days of chemotherapy to kill his unhealthy bone marrow and from painkillers. But he awoke long enough to help pediatric nurse practitioner Ellen Olson squeeze stem blood cells into his left arm.

Doctors will know in three to four weeks if the transplant has taken hold.

Should the procedure work, it could help many severely ill children with sickle cell anemia who do not have a relative with matching bone marrow, as is the case with Keone.

Bone marrow is the spongy liquid inside bones where blood cells form. The experimental procedure poses great risk because the patient's immune-fighting white cells are wiped out, leaving him open to infections.

Since infancy, Keone has suffered numerous infections and a stroke at age 5. He has received monthly blood transfusions the past seven years. Doctors feared he would suffer a second stroke or further complications.

"This protocol is ahead of its time," said Dr. Angela Ogden, one of the Emory specialists treating Keone. "But he's not your typical sickle cell kid. Taking the additional risk is acceptable in // his case, until we know that umbilical cord transplant will work for sickle cell. If it does, we can offer it to kids with less severe disease."

Pub Date: 12/13/98

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