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A Brother’s Bond: Sibling’s Newborn Stem Cells Help Treat 10-Year-Old with Sickle Cell Disease

Eli is the miracle baby Nicole Cola-Achille and her husband Hernandez Achille never thought they would have. Shortly after birth, Eli was diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease. They took the diagnosis in stride, but they knew the road ahead would not be easy.

Seven years and dozens of ER visits later, the Cola-Achille family made the decision to bank their second child’s cord blood stem cells through the Americord Cares program. This program offers free cord blood banking and lifetime storage to expecting families who have a child or relative with a qualified diagnosed medical condition that is treatable with newborn stem cells and perinatal tissues.

In 2021, Eli received an FDA-approved transfusion of his younger brother Gus’ cord blood and bone marrow stem cells under the care of doctors at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.

Today, you’d never know that Eli was ever diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease. Since the transplant, he has had zero hospital visits and his doctors can’t be happier with his continued progress.

“I’m so thankful for Americord and that Gus’s cord blood is the reason his brother is so healthy today.” – Nicole Cola-Achille
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What Is Sickle Cell Disease?

Sickle cell is an inherited blood disorder marked by defective hemoglobin that affects thousands of African Americans. In 2022, the CDC reported that Sickle Cell Disease occurs in about 1 out of every 365 Black or African American births. For a child to inherit Sickle Cell Disease, both parents need to carry the gene for it.

Normal, healthy red blood cells are flexible and circular. They can flow easily through blood vessels carrying oxygen to every part of the body. However, for someone with Sickle Cell Disease, the red blood cells become rigid and sickle-shaped (“C” shaped). As a result, these cells can block blood flow and even break down inside the blood vessels preventing the body from receiving enough oxygen to function normally.

An image depicting a comparison between a healthy cell and sickle cell.

According to the American Society of Hematology, “complications of Sickle Cell Disease occur because the sickled cells block blood flow to specific organs. The worst complications include stroke, acute chest syndrome (a condition that lowers the level of oxygen in the blood), organ damage, other disabilities, and in some cases premature death.”

Recommended Treatment for Sickle Cell Disease

In 2020, Nicole and Hernandez met with the leading doctors at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital to discuss treatment options for Eli’s sickle cell using his brother’s cord blood stem cells.

At the time Eli was nearly 10. His medical team recommended a cord blood and bone marrow transplant, but stressed the timeliness of the procedure. Doctors reported seeing the best engraftment and long-term results for children under the age of 10. This was their window of opportunity.

Gus had already been matched as an ideal bone marrow donor for Eli and the family had Gus’ cord blood stem cells cryopreserved with Americord.

After weighing all of their options and the risks for their children, Nicole and her husband made the decision to move forward with a cord blood and bone marrow transplant. After months of delays due to COVID-19, the procedure was scheduled for May of 2021.

"If we have a 10 out of 10 match, do we really need to go home to think about it? This could improve Eli’s life drastically."
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Cord Blood Stem Cell Transfusion Process for Sickle Cell Disease

When a cord blood stem cell transplant is needed, the stem cells must be released from the cord blood bank and securely transferred to the performing transplant team.

“At Americord, we strive to make the stem cell transfer process as straightforward and painless as possible,” Marty Smithmyer, founder, and CEO of Americord shared. “We know that families have a million things going on leading up to the transplant. The last thing we want them to have to do is worry about the release.” – Martin Smithmyer

Once the family contacted Americord, the Customer Service team managed the entire release and coordinated with the Dana-Farber team.

On the day of the transfusion, doctors monitored Eli’s vitals during the entire process. During the stem cell transfusion process, Eli experienced a rare allergic reaction to a preserving agent.

Despite the scare, Eli received roughly half the transfusion before the reaction. Doctors still deemed the procedure an overall success.

New Horizons: A Year After Eli’s Transfusion

A year after the procedure, Eli has seen tremendous improvement. Before the transfusion, his red cell blood counts were always significantly out of range. Eli experienced frequent infections, pain, and anemia. Many times, these symptoms would result in ER visits or long-term hospital stays.

Today, Nicole and Hernandez paint a completely different picture.

“Since the procedure, he’s been flying with amazing colors. The doctors couldn’t be more happy that everything has gone so well. And we couldn’t be happier either!” – Nicole Cola-Achille
A young boy and his brother enjoying a moment of togetherness while sitting on a peaceful bench.

The Americord Cares Program

The Americord Cares program has a mission to make newborn stem cell treatments more accessible to families who could benefit from them life-saving stem cells. Americord offers free cord blood banking and lifetime storage to expecting families who have a child with a qualified diagnosed medical condition. To see if your family qualifies, reach out to our Stem Cell Consultants at (866) 404-0389.

The views, statements, and pricing expressed are deemed reliable as of the published date. Articles may not reflect current pricing, offerings, or recent innovations.