AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – A mother of six is winning her battle against leukemia thanks to a new way of transplanting umbilical cord blood. It’s the first time the method has been used in Colorado and only the 12th time it’s ever been done.
The method was developed in Seattle at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. It involves growing millions, even billions of cord blood stem cells in a lab and then infusing that expanded amount.
Kimberly Emerson believes it saved her life. She’s spent the last 12 weeks in the hospital but now she’s able to go home. It was an ordeal that started with fatigue.
“Weak, tired all the time, didn’t feel like eating,” Emerson said.
Her lethargy was leukemia and she needed treatment right away. But she was 24 weeks pregnant with her sixth child. She feared she had to make a choice.
“Do I care more about this unborn baby? Do I care more about myself? Who do I save?” Emerson said.
She was admitted to the University of Colorado Hospital and Dr. Jonathan Gutman gave her hope.
“He said, ‘I’m going to save you and I’m going to save your baby,” Emerson said.
Ronin was born at 29 weeks — tiny but healthy. Emerson then started chemotherapy.
“As soon as we got the baby out we needed to treat her immediately,” Gutman said.
Just 11 days ago Emerson underwent an umbilical cord blood transplant. But her infusion was different. The stem cells were expanded — grown in a lab.
“She started out with nine million stem cells in her cord blood unit, which is a large cord blood unit,” Gutman said. “But we were able to turn those nine million cells into 2.7 billion cells.”
The idea is more stem cells will re-grow the blood system more rapidly and prevent complications.
The experimental procedure was pioneered in Seattle where Gutman was part of the team. Emerson was his first patient to undergo the treatment in Colorado and just the 12th in the world.
“In Kimberly’s case it’s worked absolutely perfectly,” Gutman said.
“I’m doing great,” Emerson said. “I’m just grateful to be alive.”
Emerson is such an amazing case because she recovered with few complaints in just 11 days. After the usual cord blood transplant, many patients are bedridden and on pain medication for 30 to 40 days.
It’s early, but Emerson’s case has doctors very optimistic about expanded umbilical cord blood for people without a suitable bone marrow match.