Leukaemia boy saved - by baby sister
Couple conceives baby, so her umbilical
cord blood can be used to treat dying son. Eighteen months
later, he is well
Ai-Lien and Natalie Soh
TO GIVE their gravely ill son a chance at life, a couple
here conceived a second child to save him.
Little Rachel Foo's umbilical cord blood proved a lifeline
to her brother, three-year-old Ryan, who received an infusion
of her stem cells after other treatment efforts had
That was 18 months ago.
Now five, Ryan has started kindergarten and his leukaemia
is in remission, said the biotech company CyGenics yesterday,
which operates CordLife, a private cord-blood bank here that
processed and stored the blood.
A CordLife spokesman said they announced the transplant
only now, because they wanted to be sure the cancer was in
Late in 2001, doctors had given Ryan only a 10-per-cent
chance of recovery, unless he had a bone-marrow transplant.
Neither of his parents were a match, and as an only child,
Ryan had a one in 20,000 chance of finding a non-related
An appeal through The Straits Times in Dec 2001 saw
hundreds of donors come forward, said Ryan's grateful father,
Mr S Y Foo, 35, but none was suitable.
When the Foos heard about how cord blood had been used to
treat various blood-related ailments, they made up their minds
to have a second child to help Ryan.
Cord blood is a rich source of what doctors call
haematopoietic stem cells, 'blank' immature cells that can
become all sorts of blood cells: red, white or
These can then replace diseased cells in patients who
suffer from leukaemia or severe anaemia, for
'We were elated when Rachel's blood was shown to be a
100-per-cent match for Ryan,' said Dr Tan Ah Moy, head and
senior consultant for haematology and oncology services at the
KK Women's and Children's Hospital, where the transplant was
The perfect match meant the transplant would have a higher
chance of success.
She said: 'The healthy cells from his sister re-populated
in his bone marrow and revived his immune system, depleted by
the chemotherapy and radiotherapy used to treat the
The first successful cord-blood stem-cell transplant was
done in France in 1988, to help a boy with a serious form of
Here, the public Singapore Cord Blood Bank, where babies'
umbilical cord blood will be processed, frozen and stored,
aims to set up its facilities and start freeze-storing cord
blood by the last quarter of this year. It plans to build a
registry of at least 10,000 samples, to help about 100
patients a year suffering from blood
Currently, over 2,500 people have stored umbilical cord
blood in two private banks here, in case they or family
members have need of it in the future. Only a handful have
needed to use it so far for blood-related
Donors can be charged several thousand dollars for
extraction, tests and storage.
As for Ryan, who has just started kindergarten, he is doing
well now, said Mr Foo, an engineer. His mother, Wendy, 34 is a
part-time accounting and clerical worker.
Although the disease cost him his sight in one eye, and he
has trouble concentrating, it is nothing compared to the dark
days when his life hung in the balance, Mr Foo said.
'We're still living day by day, and there's no guarantee he
won't have a relapse. But our main aim is to make sure Ryan's
happy, and nowadays we can more or less enjoy normal family