A SERIOUSLY ill toddler from the North East has been given a second chance at life after a transatlantic appeal led to a life-saving stem cell transplant.
In what is believed to be a first in the region, 18-month-old William Morris from County Durham has had his leukaemia treated with cord blood stem cells taken from an anonymous newborn’s umbilical cord in the United States.
A donor had to be found from overseas because there were no suitable matches in the United Kingdom and the Chester- le-Street boy was in desperate need of the life-saving treatment.
Without the transplant, his condition could have proved fatal as an intensive course of chemotherapy was not working and he was extremely ill.
His mother Catherine Wray, 28, said: “When William was diagnosed with leukaemia, it was devastating. It was the last thing that we had expected. It was a really scary time as William was so poorly, but we had full faith in the consultants and are so grateful that a stem cell match was found for William.
“I don’t know who the donor is, but I wish I could send a letter to the mum saying ‘thank you for helping to save my son’s life’.”
William was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, a cancer of the white blood cells and bone marrow, when he was six weeks old.
The youngster underwent four courses of intensive chemotherapy, which were unsuccessful, and within a month had a relapse of his condition.
On Mothers’ Day last year, William was admitted to Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary’s Bubble Unit, where he remained in isolation for two months.
He was given a cord blood stem-cell transplant at the end of March and soon began to respond well to the treatment. Another child in the North East has also had a cord blood stem cells transplant from the USA.
Over the last two years, the Anthony Nolan Trust has been working closely with the Department of Health and the NHS Cord Blood Bank to ensure that the UK inventory of cord blood units is suitable for clinical transplant increases in order to reduce the reliance on cord blood imported from overseas.
Dr Sujith Samarasinghe, a consultant paediatric haematologist at Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “William had a high-risk leukaemia. Since the transplant he is doing extremely well.
“It is early days, but there is now no evidence of leukaemia in his system.”
William is back at home and is enjoying life with his mother and father, Christopher Morris, 28, who works at the Nissan plant in Washington. Ms Wray said: “William is like any other child his age and to look at him, you would not think that anything had been wrong.
“He is a cheeky and lovable boy. He is so special in every way.”
William’s condition is in remission and he continues to be regularly monitored by consultants.
Ms Wray, who is now pregnant with twins, has decided to get the umbilical cords of her babies frozen and “banked”, if they are a suitable match for William, in case cord blood stem cells need to be used at a later date.
William recently received a Cancer Research UK Little Star Award, made in partnership with TK Maxx, for his bravery in coping with his condition.
The Little Star Awards are open to all under-18s who have cancer or who have been treated for the disease in the last five years. To nominate a Little Star visit www.cruk.org/littlestar