Making medical history with a double umbilical cord blood transplant

Published: Dec. 7, 2016 at 9:17 PM CST
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It's the first time it has ever been done in Nebraska. A 13-year-old's double umbilical cord blood transplant at Nebraska Medicine is making history in our state.

When you're 13 and you have to spend 30 days in the hospital, you pass the time with a Nerf gun. Meet Joseph Cruz or “J-Money” - the nickname he was given by a nurse.

“I like it. It's alright,” Joseph said about his nickname.

A year and a half ago a diagnosis landed him in the hospital: Acute Myeloid Leukemia or AML. His best option for survival was a stem cell transplant. Joseph has nine brothers and sisters but when it came time to find a match for the stem cell transplant none of them were a fit.

His oncologist, Doctor Sachit Patel, then tried a national search.

“Of all the donors across the world there was not a good match there,” said Patel.

At this point, they turned to a different type of stem cell transplant that gives them so many more donors to pick from.

Dr. Patel studied at Duke University and is trained in umbilical cord blood transplants. In Joseph's case, because of his age, he would need a double umbilical cord transplant.

It was the first one in Nebraska.

”It's just blood from the cord which makes it easy to obtain, abundant and it's safe. All those ethical questions which come up are off the table when it comes to cord blood,” said Patel.

The goal to have the new cells find their way to Joseph's bone marrow to give him a stronger immune system. It's risky but 14 days out from the transplant, J-Money is doing great.

“Good. I'm just always tired," Joseph said.

But not too tired to take a playful aim at his doctor with his Nerf gun or tell you the one thing he wants for Christmas!

“I want an X-Box. An X-Box One!”

Dr. Patel's wish is the new cord blood cells will soon find the way to Joseph's bone marrow. His ultimate coal is that Joseph's Leukemia will never come back.