Stem Cell Transplant

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When Cole Cunningham came home from middle school with an intense headache, his mom initially didn’t think anything of it. But when the headache persisted and Cole’s symptoms worsened, she took him to Urgent Care. From there, doctors rushed Cole to the hospital where he and his family learned he had a cancerous brain tumor.

Cole received chemotherapy, radiation and brain surgery but the cancer cells remained. When doctors presented the Cunninghams with the option of stem cell therapy, they made the decision to move forward.

“Stem cells just refer to the cells that can restart the blood-producing system,” says Reggie Duerst, Clinical Director of the Stem Cell Transplant Program at Northwestern. “For patients like Cole, we can collect their blood cells, freeze them to be able to re-start the blood cell production after we give them very high doses of medicine that can eradicate the tumor. By collecting them, it allows us to give otherwise lethal doses of medicine but we can rescue them by giving them these previously collected, stored cells back.”

After doctors collected Cole’s stem cells, he underwent 12 rounds of chemotherapy before the cells were infused back in using an IV. The transplant was a success and on April 29th, 2013 Cole found out he was cancer free.

“… It was just one of the best days of my life knowing that I was done with all of the chemotherapy and everything,” he says. “Everyone texted me after school and they all said, ‘Cole, you beat cancer!’ Now, I`m 13 and I`m a cancer survivor.”

Stem cell therapy is relatively rare form of treatment, with only about 10,000 transplants per year in the United States. But for patients like Cole, it can offer a chance for a cure.

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